Many employers recognize that having a diverse and inclusive culture is a part of their corporate brand. And the tone is set from the top because such a culture starts with inclusive leadership. But how do leaders go about communicating the “power of inclusion” to the rest of their employees? Ritu Bhasin, LL.B., MBA, is a diversity and leadership expert and President of Bhasin Consulting Inc. We recently spoke to her about how leaders must be pro-active and some tips to heed when creating inclusive work environments. Her Amazon bestseller The Authenticity Principle is available today.
Why do you believe overt and systemic racism still exists in the workplace in 2018?
The workplace is a microcosm of society, and as a society, we still struggle with conscious and unconscious biases. We also struggle with discomfort with others’ cultural differences, which prevents us from learning about, understanding, and embracing these differences.
On an individual level, it’s difficult to see the prejudices and stereotypes we hold. How do we become aware of the existence of deep unconscious biases within us that can manifest in the workplace?
The first step is to accept that if you have a brain, you have biases—full stop. Then, you can use tools to help uncover the biases you hold in your unconscious brain. Tools like Harvard’s Implicit Association Tests can help with this. Once you know what your biases are, you can use mindfulness and self-reflection strategies to tune into the negative judgements you are engaging in, and consciously clock and pay attention to the meanings you are attaching to others’ differences.
Leadership starts at the top for an organization. Why is it important for leaders to take a proactive approach towards, and ownership of, diversity & inclusion in the workplace?
It’s absolutely critical for leaders to be proactive in this area because leaders set the tone for the organizational culture. The tone at the top cascades down: leaders model the behaviors they expect others to emulate, and employees look to leaders to see what behaviors they expect. In order for diversity and inclusion to permeate the culture of an organization, it’s critical for leaders to embody the message.
Sometimes unfortunately, for many different reasons, organizations’ efforts to build their brands as diverse and inclusive can go awry. What can leaders do to prevent this and/or mitigate it when it happens?
Be proactive: have a strategic plan in place that touches on all aspects of talent management, client/customer management, and stakeholder relationships, and ensure that diversity and inclusion principles are embedded into every area of the organization. You should also have a crisis management system in place.
Most importantly, leaders need to be vocal about what they are doing when issues around diversity and inclusion do arise. For example, recently the CEO of a retail chain in the United States modelled great leadership after a recent racist incident occurred at one of their stores—he stepped up, directly named what happened, took ownership of it as a leader, and then took immediate action.
How important is it for leaders to understand and communicate the ‘power of inclusion’ in the workplace?
It’s critical—this is everything when it comes to infusing inclusion into organizational cultures. The most important thing a leader can do is model and talk about inclusion. Words and actions go hand in hand.
What practical steps can leaders take to get started on creating a culture of inclusion in their organizations?
There’s a lot that leaders can do (and in fact there’s a whole section of my book, The Authenticity Principle, dedicated to how leaders can “be the change” when it comes to inclusion). A few important areas are to recognize and address your privilege, practice authentic leadership, and ask and learn about differences.
A commitment to fostering authenticity—both in yourself as a leader, and in others—is really at the core of creating an inclusive work culture. If you can create an environment in which team members feel able to bring their whole selves to work, including their differences, then you can be truly inclusive.