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Developing inclusive leaders in a diverse workplace

Diversity of talent is driving the need to embrace individual differences, turning inclusion into a new leadership capability.

Shifts in age profiles, education, and migration, along with expectations of equality of opportunities and work life balance, are all impacting today’s organisations. The future success of these organisations will depend on a leader’s ability to optimise a diverse talent pool and develop an engaged and motivated workforce.

Creating a sense of belonging

Hiring diverse talent doesn’t guarantee high performance. It requires inclusive leadership that assures that all team members feel that they are valued and sense that they belong - and as a result are confident and inspired. Research shows that teams with inclusive leaders are 17 percent more likely to report that they are high performing, 20 percent more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29 percent more likely to report behaving collaboratively.

For collaboration to be successful, employees must first be willing to share their perspectives, which calls for a work environment in which all individuals feel empowered to express their opinions freely with the group. Diversity of thinking is critical to effective collaboration, and it requires close attention to team composition and processes. In such environment, an inclusive leader sets the tone and models the behaviours for their team to create an environment where each individual feels seen, valued, respected, and able to contribute.

Walking the talk is critical, because research suggests that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether their employees feel included. When employees feel included, they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate — all of which directly impacts organisational performance. Employees who feel excluded are 25 percent less productive on future tasks, have a 50 percent greater risk of turnover, and are less willing to work hard for the team.

Traits of an inclusive leader

Cultivating a diverse, inclusive workforce takes time and energy, two of a leader’s most precious commodities. What drives inclusive leaders are their values and their understanding that creating a welcoming culture begins with them. They are not afraid to display humility by acknowledging their personal limitations and seeking contributions from others to overcome them. Curiosity and an open mind are the hallmarks of inclusive leaders, who understand that personal and organisational biases narrow their field of vision and preclude them from making objective decisions.

Inclusive leaders articulate an authentic commitment to diversity, they admit mistakes and create the space for others to contribute. They demonstrate an open mindset and empathy to understand those around them, pay attention to psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion. Their ability to engage in active listening makes the people around them feel valued and represented. Not all employees have the same perspectives, experiences or opportunities as others within the organisation, and leaders need to seek out and embrace these diverse perspectives. When leaders devote time, energy, and resources to nurturing inclusive workforces by investing in people and inspiring others to share their passion and goals, they create a culture that drives the organisation forward.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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