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5 Ways Leaders Can Model Inclusive Behavior


Teresa Sanchez

Managers play a lead role in promoting an inclusive work environment. The attitudes and behaviors they exhibit in the workplace — from their approach to conflict resolution to how they motivate their teams — become a model for their cohort. According to a study by the Harvard Business Journal, 75% of employees believe that their managers should be largely responsible for promoting diversity and inclusion. Yet, this responsibility is often one managers are unprepared to shoulder.

Despite conclusive evidence that managers greatly benefit from role-specific human skills training, they rarely receive it. In fact, 1 in 4 managers receive no training at all. Faced with difficult decisions in the inclusion arena, managers who drop the ball at a crucial moment fracture trust that is hard to repair. Rather than waiting for a slip-up, we recommend taking proactive steps to equip your managers with skills that empower them to be inclusive leaders. Here are 5 tips on how to be an inclusive leader: 

1. Prioritizing work-life balance

When striving to promote an inclusive working environment, it’s important to recognize the importance of work-life balance. As a manager, you can model inclusive behavior by setting clear boundaries and encouraging your team to do the same. Make flexibility a norm and accommodate the diverse needs of your workforce, such as childcare responsibilities, personal commitments, or religious observances.

Communication is vital: let employees know that your door is always open so they feel comfortable coming to you with relevant work-life balance issues that arise. By valuing work-life balance, you create an inclusive atmosphere that acknowledges individual differences. A study by the Harvard Business Review reveals that 89% of employees believe work-life balance is essential for overall job satisfaction.

2. Using inclusive language

To model inclusive behavior effectively, make a concerted effort to use language that respects diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Avoid gendered language, microaggressions, and assumptions about cultural norms. Be respectful about honoring peoples’ preferred pronouns. By encouraging a respectful open dialogue, you support an inclusive environment where employees feel heard and valued.

3. Modeling empathy

Empathy is the cornerstone of inclusive leadership. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that 40% of employees believe a lack of empathy is a barrier to leadership effectiveness. To model empathy, actively seek to understand the experiences and challenges of your team members. Recognize that everyone brings a unique perspective to the table. Acknowledge and address biases, and show compassion when team members face difficulties. 

4. Promoting inclusive decision-making

Inclusive leaders make a concerted effort to include diverse voices in decision-making processes. According to a recent survey, organizations that prioritize diverse decision-making are 70% more likely to capture new markets. As a manager, encourage diverse perspectives during meetings and decision-making. Create opportunities for all team members to contribute, ensuring that their input is valued and respected. This approach not only results in better decisions but also reinforces the importance of inclusion.

5. Providing inclusive feedback

Without feedback, there can be no progress. However, not all feedback is created equal. A study by Forbes found that 67% of employees surveyed believe their managers need to provide more feedback on their inclusive behaviors. As a manager, model inclusive behavior by giving constructive and unbiased feedback. Critically, make sure to commend inclusive actions and behaviors in your team members. By rewarding exemplary behavior, you reinforce the importance of inclusion and provide a roadmap for improvement.

Inclusive leadership: An ongoing effort

Learning how to be an inclusive leader plays a crucial role in fostering a healthy workplace environment. By prioritizing work-life balance, using inclusive language, modeling empathy, promoting inclusive decision-making, and giving conscientious feedback, you can lead by example and foster an inclusive work environment where all employees feel valued and empowered. The journey toward inclusive leadership is ongoing, and every effort counts in creating a workplace that celebrates diversity and embraces inclusion.

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