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The Other Half of D&I Initiatives: Inclusive Leadership Training

Lessening the impact of unconscious bias is a must-have 21st century leadership skill

Congratulations! You understand diversity & Inclusion training is no longer optional. You’ve gone through the training and understand why we need diversity and inclusion in the workplace. You've now conscientiously hired for a diverse team because you know they are more high performing. 

You’ve done your part. Now you can get comfy in your chair, pat yourself on the back, and wait for the benefits to flow in. ... Right?

Not exactly. 

Diversity and inclusion training in the workplace is just one piece of the DEI puzzle. Read on to learn more about how leaders can capitalize on the power of their diverse teams, keep them happy,  and make them even more successful.

The Case for Inclusive Leadership

Read A Primer: Why do we Need Workplace Diversity and Inclusion? for a fundamental understanding of this very important topic.

Diversity and inclusion are not interchangeable concepts. One without the other is not enough. Diversity is about the composition of an organization. Inclusion is how well  different types of people’s contributions, presence, and points of view are valued, treated, and integrated within the organization. When the two elements work together, the entire organization hums.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, as reported by consulting firm Deloitte, encapsulated this idea: Qantas’ very diverse environment and inclusive culture “got us through the tough times . . . diversity generated better strategy, better risk management, better debates, [and] better outcomes.”

Being enlightened and committed to mitigating the impact of unconscious bias is essential for today’s inclusive leaders. Simply hiring people according to a diversity checklist will not guarantee high performance. Leadership determines the success of an organization’s diversity efforts. 

According to Deloitte’s research, inclusiveness directly impacts team performance with 17% reported as “high performing” under the management of an inclusive leader.  The research goes further to say organizations with inclusive cultures are:

  • 2X as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
  • 3X as likely to be high performing
  • 6X as likely to be innovative and agile
  • 8x as likely to achieve better business outcomes

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace Impacts Communication and Culture

The key to effectively transforming a workplace into a diverse and inclusive utopia is understanding unconscious bias

The single most important trait generating a sense of inclusiveness is a 

leader’s visible awareness of bias. 

Source: Harvard Business Review

Understanding bias helps leaders notice it in themselves and others, and to adapt for it. Through understanding, leaders develop meaningful connections and take steps to bravely make and lead change.

Until recently, business leaders have been unwilling to admit the prevalence of discrimination and unconscious bias within their organizations.  Unconscious bias training can help unravel the subtle and obscured nature of bias. Bias that's been taken for granted and ingrained into broader societal culture.

Job search company Glassdoor conducted a survey of 1,100 US employees and found that 61% had witnessed or experienced workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or LGBTQ identity. Since much of the discrimination occurs subtly, ALL employees need to understand the impact of their words and actions.

Managers are Key to Building a Culture of Belonging

“It takes a village” to create a diverse workplace with an inclusive culture. Corporate HR efforts by themselves are not enough. The intrinsic belief of an inclusive culture must live at and be bolstered by leaders at all levels of the organization.

inclusive leadership

As the leader, you set the tone and model behavior for your team. In fact, what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual feels included. It’s important for managers to walk the walk and not pay lip service to the idea of an inclusive culture. Organizations are losing talent because they haven’t gone far enough in creating a culture that’s truly welcoming to all.

If you want to be an inclusive manager, you need to put the ability to spot bias to work. Managers are already on the front lines of dealing with bias conflicts. You are in a unique position to disarm those conflicts before they even begin. 

Microaggressions in particular-- the "throw away” comments of societal taken-for-granted bias-- are a significant source of unconscious bias and conflict. Not only are they painful to the receiver, they can also be distressing to others who overhear the remark. Left unchecked, unconscious bias in the workplace infects the working environment. It inhibits the development of an inclusive culture. 

Leading by Creating a Brave Space

Small changes can make a big impact. They send a message of inclusion and respect, and work to create a safe space for all. Examples of some questions to ask yourself: Do I give equal time to all meeting participants, even when they’re not in the room? Do I always refer to one gender when giving examples? Do I always use sports metaphors or other imagery that represent only one group of people? Do I point out microaggressions when they occur or do I participate? 

When it comes to names, it’s important to ask employees for clarification and practice proper pronunciation. You should, similarly, encourage team members to do the same and even go the extra step of correcting others if they witness regular mispronunciation. 

Managers often say they feel uncomfortable discussing racial or gender issues. This is often the case when employees don’t share similar backgrounds or look like them. Taking on the uncomfortable conversations is one way to signal value and respect to employees. An ultimate affirmation of inclusiveness.

Leaders and their organizations must create a brave space-- even more so than a safe space-- for uncomfortable dialogue. This, according to global diversity and inclusion consulting firm, The Winters Group. “There are a lot of things in life that are uncomfortable. That’s no longer an excuse to not have these conversations.” 

Lessening the impact of unconscious bias is an essential 21st century leadership skill. As the team leader, you set the tone and model and define what is acceptable behavior for your team. Inclusive leadership courageously leads for change.

Learn more about diversity and inclusion from

A Primer: Why do we Need Workplace Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity and Inclusion Training is no Longer Optional

Strategic Thinking and the Power of Diversity

Are you brave enough to take on the uncomfortable conversations around unconscious bias?

Use to help you become a better leader.

Compare inclusive leadership courses and find the right one for you.

About the Author

Rama Eriksson is a Content Editor at Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as a marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals.  Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010.

rama eriksson

Last updated: 07 Jun 2021

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