Diversity training has seen a massive uptick in the last four years, despite research questioning its effectiveness at changing behavior and suggesting that it may elicit backlash against underrepresented groups. Indeed, one study found that “members of high-status groups feel threatened by pro-diversity organizational messages,” and another study found that men at large companies are more likely to say they experience bias than women are.
Why does this research matter? Beyond the fact that leaders should have empathy for all of their employees, research by Boston Consulting Group shows that 96% of companies who engage men in gender inclusion programs see progress, whereas only 30% of organizations see progress when men are not involved. It’s time to be more inclusive and provide managers with inclusion training. By aligning men with inclusion efforts, inclusion programs are much more likely to succeed than diversity programs alone.
If we are to train leaders to be inclusive, we need to know what makes people feel included. Luckily, there is strong research to answer this question, and it comes down to the most important human drives: to be a unique self while belonging to a group. These two elements — uniqueness and belongingness — create an optimal level of distinctiveness and underlie the concept of inclusion. Thinking about these two distinct needs can help leaders change their behavior in a way that increases inclusion.
Inclusive leaders can also mitigate the fear of reverse discrimination by increasing transparency, building alignment to ensure that white men feel like part of the inclusion conversation, and celebrating diversity and inclusion by making it part of the culture. With that in mind, here’s how to develop inclusive leaders in your organization.
Train Leaders to Value Uniqueness by Practicing These Behaviors:
1. Show Public Support for Diversity and Inclusion
Inclusive leaders actively and publicly support diversity. They recognize the relevance of diversity in day-to-day conversations and keep diversity at the front of their minds when it comes to team goals, ensuring accountability for diversity and inclusion.
2. Have Empathy for Followers
Inclusive leaders practice empathy. They take the time to get to know their employees and understand their experiences, including their cultural experiences.
3. Demonstrate a Desire to Learn From Others
Inclusive leaders care about learning from the different perspectives held by their team. A learning orientation involves being open to hearing views that might be different from their own and then acting on them.
4. Ensure Fairness in Employment Practices
Inclusive leaders have a nuanced view of how employment practices can result in unfair outcomes. Sometimes, these outcomes are obvious (e.g., hiring, pay or promotion). However, inclusive leaders also consider fairness when assigning tasks and providing equitable mentoring.
Train Leaders to Increase Belonging by Practicing These Behaviors:
1. Be Transparent
Inclusive leaders create an “insider” feeling and distribute power to employees by acknowledging where the team is doing well and where it is not.
2. Empower People
Inclusive leaders set high expectations and empower individuals and teams (through methods such as self-managed work groups) to work their own way.
3. Align Allies
Inclusive leaders align all team members — including the white men — to join diversity and inclusion efforts.
4. Motivate Cultural Change
Finally, inclusive leaders make inclusion part of the culture, including the rites and rituals and the mission, vision and values of the organization.