What is inclusive leadership and gender balance?

Expand your knowledge with our fact sheet on the topic.

Fact sheet about and overview of inclusive leadership and gender balance.

Here you will find a summary of what inclusive leadership, gender balance and diversity management actually is. We hope that it will provide you with the overview and understanding that you might be looking for. If you are looking for a more in-depth conversation about the opportunities that lie within inclusive leadership, you are more than welcome to contact us.

What is inclusive leadership?

The basic attitude of the inclusive leader is that every person on her team or in the organisation counts. This attitude leads the inclusive leader to adopt a number of management practices that drive value by attracting better and more diverse talent and spurring innovation.

Increased diversity and gender balance does not have to be the goal of inclusive leadership, but it seems to be an inevitable result. Team members with inclusive leaders are four times as likely as team members with non-inclusive leaders to say that the input of members whose background or experience differs from their own is important and valuable to the team. This experience – of being seen as contributing valuable input to the team – is the experience of inclusion.

Reliable data show that the more included employees feel, the more innovative they report being in their jobs. And the more they report engaging in team citizenship behaviors – going above and beyond the “call of duty” to help other team members and meet workgroup objectives. Other research shows that team members with inclusive leaders are three times as likely to say they are not afraid to fail. They are also four-and-a-half times as likely to report that nobody on their team is afraid to challenge the status quo.

Daring to fail is an essential element of any innovation

A growing body of research suggests that leaders who encourage failure rather than just tolerate it, unlock game-changing innovation. Many leaders know all of this. Still, they struggle with turning knowledge into action in their daily work. This is because inclusive leadership is quite different from the management practices most leaders are familiar with. Luckily it’s something that can be learned.

Inclusive leadership can be learned

Research suggests that inclusive leaders depart from standard practices like credentials-based hiring, command and control management, and even traditional goal setting. Instead, they:

  • hire for talent
  • welcome and implement feedback and ideas from anyone and anywhere in the hierarchy
  • open the doors of opportunity as wide as possible
  • foster both competition and collaboration within teams and within the organisation.

Inclusive leaders hire for talent rather than credentials because they believe the people they hire can learn to do anything. That requires identifying and offering what may seem like unlikely opportunities for growth. For example, Oracle’s CEO, Larry Ellison helped a receptionist learn computer programming. She went on to occupy management positions in customer relations and later started Oracle’s inside sales department which became a multibillion-dollar operation.

Inclusive leaders foster contribution, competition and collaboration

Inclusive leaders do not want or expect employees to do what they are told – to follow clear rules, instructions, and boundaries. They invite, even require, team members at all levels to contribute their own ideas. They do so in a way that simultaneously fosters competition and collaboration.

Pairing competition and collaboration works better than either one by itself. The combination generates a cohort effect: The more you help people improve their performance, the more they help each other improve. It creates an environment that fuels exceptional performance, and, research  suggests, it is especially effective in activating the talent of female members of the team. Women seem to compete better when they feel they are doing so as part of a team, on behalf of and with others.

Inclusive leadership is basically about empowerment

It’s time for organisations to dare to try something different. Stop investing in popular but ineffective initiatives like mandatory diversity training and diversity performance evaluations for managers. Instead, empower your managers to hire for talent and to welcome and implement feedback and ideas from in the hierarchy. Encourage them to open the doors of opportunity to employees and foster both competition and collaboration. Not only will they see increasing diversity and more equal numbers of men and women rising to leadership positions, they will see the results on the bottom line.

Gender balance vs. gender equality

We use the term gender balance rather than gender equality. We want to be clear that we believe organisations should be working on achieving more equal distributions of men and women across teams and up and down the organisational hierarchy.

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