Diversity is good for business, and good business practices foster diversity. In a 2016 report Deloitte set out ‘four global mega-trends’ for the future working world:

  1. Diversity of markets
  2. Diversity of customers
  3. Diversity of ideas
  4. Diversity of talent[1]

What this report makes clear is that we are in the midst of a seismic shift towards workplace ‘diversification’, and that companies embedding diversity into their DNA are reaping significant commercial rewards. And yet many businesses across the world still struggle to meaningfully deliver on diversity. Many expensive diversity programmes ultimately serve to reinforce bias rather than remove it, and too often businesses focus their energies on the end goal of diversity without developing the means of reaching that goal: a culture of inclusive leadership that drives success in an ever less-homogenous working world. This paper will set out the current landscape of diversity (and its many, data-proven benefits to organisations) before putting forward a case for promoting the inclusive leadership practices which will enable diversity to thrive.


Diversify your approach to diversity

Over the last few years the commercial gains delivered by diverse teams and enterprises have become increasingly visible. In January 2018, Harvard Business Review published a study of more that 1,700 companies across eight countries and a variety of industries, measuring diversity metrics in management roles (gender, age, national origin, career path, industry background, education) against the financial performance of that business.[2] The results were stark. There was a statistically significant relationship between diversity and increased innovation and revenue, and this correlation was strengthened the more elements of diversity were represented. This data represents a huge motivator for firms to embrace a ‘diverse’ approach to diversity, one that acknowledges the many facets, strengths and benefits of a truly diverse workforce. It also serves as a reminder that, even when these markers of diversity are present within an organisation, ‘the power of diversity still needs to be unlocked with enabling practices, like a non-hostile work environment, an inclusive culture, and a culture where diverse ideas resulting from a diversity of backgrounds are free to compete’.


Inclusion is the glue that holds diversity together

At the heart of this ‘enablement’ of diversity is inclusive management and leadership; without inclusion, the innovative and revenue-driving potential of a diverse workforce withers and dies. Verna Myers, a self-proclaimed status-quo disruptor and champion of inclusion, sums up the distinction succinctly: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance’.[3] An inclusive workplace provides an environment where individuals can play to their varied strengths and experiences, included as part of the whole rather than ‘outgrouped’. An inclusive manager embraces the differences within their teams and looks to leverage these to drive performance.  This can take both time and effort (both in short supply for contemporary leaders…) as it requires the manager to get to know team members as individuals – recognising their potential for unique contributions and using this knowledge to improve team decision making and ideation. This time is a worthwhile investment; Deloitte have found that people feel included when they ‘feel that they are treated fairly, that their uniqueness is appreciated […], and that they have a voice in decision making’. If inclusion is the backbone of diversity, a leadership approach that results in feelings of inclusion is the foundation for improved innovation and revenue as detailed above.


What does ‘inclusive leadership’ look like?

The notion of ‘inclusive leadership’ is not a radical departure from previous leadership models or capabilities. It is an acknowledgement of the changing global workplace, and the distinct set of skills required to thrive in this new and diverse landscape. The particular characteristics of an inclusive leader, as we define it here at Adaptis, are:

  • Self-Aware: recognises and on guard against own ‘hot-spots’, agenda or potential for bias.
  • Strengths-Focused: aware of personal strengths and able to identify, value and provide feedback on the diverse strengths of others.
  • Curious: always open to opportunities to listen and learn, and willing to change where needed.
  • Collaborative: leads from the centre of the group, not the top of the pyramid, and encourages shared group success.
  • Resilient: takes an optimistic approach to challenges, and is able to maintain this approach even under pressure.

Developing these traits of inclusive leadership requires motivation and commitment; both organisations and leaders need to see the value of a workforce that feels included. What is increasingly clear is that where inclusion thrives so too does innovation and collaboration; ideas are put forward and challenged, people feel heard and valued, and leaders can get the best out of their teams (no matter how different their team members may be).


How to make inclusion part of BAU

Supporting inclusive leadership within your organisation can take several forms. Embedding ‘inclusive behaviours’ within performance management structures or KPIs is one approach, with appropriate reward and recognition for those individuals who role model the characteristics of inclusive leadership well. Making these characteristics explicit in job descriptions, and holding non-inclusive behaviours to account, is another. Adaptis also works with businesses to create bespoke leadership programmes which focus on developing and leveraging these inclusive competencies, preparing future leaders and developing current managers for the challenges and opportunities presented by a diverse working world. At an individual level, look around your business – Who had the latest great idea? Who do you currently turn to for insights, ideas or help when problem solving? Who else might have contributions that are currently untapped? And how could you create a space for those unique perspectives to be shared? If diversity is being asked to the party, make sure everyone is dancing once they get there.


[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/topics/talent/six-signature-traits-of-inclusive-leadership.html

[2] https://hbr.org/2018/01/how-and-where-diversity-drives-financial-performance

[3] https://vernamyers.com/ quoted in https://hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion