Most Workplaces Don't Make Everyone Feel Valued—Here's How To Fix That

Creating an environment where unique strengths are recognized but everyone feels like they are part of the group is a tall order for leaders, but it's exactly what we need. Here's how to make it happen.

In the debate over whether inclusive workplaces matter, another study points to "yes."

Catalyst, a New York City-based nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities for women in business, has recently released its global report, "Inclusive Leadership: The View from Six Countries." Among the report’s key findings were that all employees are more dedicated, supportive, and committed to their companies’ success when they feel included. They were more likely to propose new ideas and engaged in "team citizenship," where they supported each other.

"We don’t seem to be making progress on promoting climates of inclusion in the workplace," says Jeanine Prime, Catalyst’s vice president and leader of the Catalyst Research Center for Advancing Leader Effectiveness. "Our research shows that progress has stalled."

That’s to the detriment of an increasingly global and female workforce, Prime says. In most countries, "inclusion" means having both a sense of belonging while also being valued as individuals. They want to feel like a part of the group, but also have their unique strengths and attributes recognized.

Managers are challenged to create that nuanced environment, focusing on diverse talents and experiences without engaging in stereotyping or alienating employees. This allows employees to put forth their ideas and perspectives.

Conversely, the study found that failing to foster such an environment can lead to unhappiness and "groupthink," where innovation and creativity give way to homogenous ideas.

So, how can a leader become more inclusive and create such an environment? Prime says inclusive leaders do the following things.

They model both strengths and weakness.

Inclusive leaders model the behavior they want to cultivate and treat others with integrity and respect, Prime says. They share their own experiences to create a sense of connection. Prime says that such modeling of both strengths and weaknesses is important because it makes it easier for others to relate to the leader.

"It helps to legitimize the growth and learning of others. When we see people share their own imperfections, they appear more human to us, more like us," she says.

They’re supportive of others’ power.

Creating those feelings of uniqueness and belonging also means that the inclusive leader doesn’t become threatened when someone shows strong aptitude or knowledge. Instead, inclusive leaders focus on those strengths and try to further develop them, giving employees the resources they need, including clear direction, training, ongoing communication, and other support.

They hold others accountable.

Inclusive leaders aren’t soft. They delegate responsibility and give their employees responsibility for the results that are within their control. That accountability helps employees become more engaged and gives them a sense of purpose in their work.

"An experience we hear women talk about is not getting the difficult feedback they might need to hear when they’re not meeting expectations. This is a difficulty that leaders have giving feedback to those who are different from them," Prime says.

They say, "I don’t know."

The study found that humility was an essential trait of inclusive leaders. When a leader can admit that he or she doesn’t have all of the answers, it leaves "space for others to make their contribution," Prime says.

They find the best way to communicate with everyone.

The most effective leaders are comfortable across a broad swath of communication scenarios. Prime says one common misconception is that inclusive leaders treat everyone the same. Instead, inclusive leaders engage employees in dialogue that draws out their differences and encourage them to share those experiences as part of the group.

They’re not afraid to stand up for their beliefs.

Courage is an important attribute of inclusive leaders because they may need to push back against conventions or bias that may inhibit inclusiveness.

They must be unafraid to champion employees who are different from others who hold leadership posts in the organization. Knowing that a leader will stand up for his or her employees’ and their best interests creates a sense of confidence in the leader, Prime says.

[Image: Flickr user thebarrowboy]

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • Great article Gwen as the principles outlined support what insightful analysts are saying about the workplace ecosystem going forward. In the era of 'Customer Centricity' the old leadership mindset of "command and control" will deliver diminishing outcomes. On the other hand, leadership attitude and practice that conveys humility, empathy and genuine inclusivity can easily coexist with healthy practices of focus, pragmatism and accountability. I have tried to convey this concept in a chapter I contributed to in the book "Thorns To Be Thankful For" called "The Spirit of Work" - http://amzn.to/1gWRUkQ .

  • JC Wandemberg

    It is not that simple. In order to chage the org. culture its genetic makeup must be changed first. The DNA of any organization is determined by its Organizational Design Principles. Cheers! JC Wandemberg Ph.D.