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The Elusive Search for Inclusive Leadership

By Jesse Lent

“It’s 8 a.m. and you’re waiting for the elevator with a dozen of your employees. Would you be more likely to speak to those who look like you, or those more distant in age or with a different social background?”

This is the type of question companies can use to identify inclusive leaders. If the first option sounds more like a typical morning, they may want to ask yourself if some staff are feeling left out.

And while it’s natural to share a bond with those who have the same ethnicity, creed or personal history as oneself, in the workplace this can have tangible consequences relating to who gets hired, fired, or promoted. It can also have a direct effect on workplace morale.

It’s no secret that being an inclusive leader requires enough social intelligence to navigate the minefield of social interactions within the workplace and leave all subordinates at the end of the day feeling as though they were treated equally. But how does one do it?

Relationships

Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships described social intelligence as “being smart about relationships” in an interview with National Public Radio.

“It means being empathetic, sensing what the other person is feeling, understanding their point of view, and ease and facility in having smooth, effective interactions,” Goleman said. “So it’s both knowing what the person is feeling and acting effectively based on that.”

Major corporations are taking this seriously. Transnational pharmaceutical giant Novartis established an externally run Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council back in 2006.

That same year, the company also began giving out its Pharma CEO Diversity and Inclusion Award. The award “recognizes teams and individuals who have significantly contributed to [diversity and inclusion] by enhancing teamwork, driving innovation and as a result improving business performance,” according to the Pharma website.

And their technique appears to be working. The company was ranked the sixth best place to work in 2011 by the publication The Scientist. Fortune magazine voted them their number one most admired company worldwide for 2011.

Holding an Organization Together

Chrysler Group is another corporation often recognized for excellence in promoting inclusive leadership. The company’s Office of Talent Management, Global Diversity and Leadership Development organizes diversity events and leadership development programs. The company also has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment.

“Culture is the fabric that holds organizations together. It is not just an ingredient for success; it is the essence of success itself,” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne stated after assuming the role of executive sponsor for the company’s Global Diversity Council. “This is why my leadership team and I are committed to creating an atmosphere where all of our people feel respected and valued, because every person plays an important role in shaping our future.”

In a survey of 600 employees, conducted last month by British organization Business in the Community, 84 percent said that an inclusive leader motivated them, 81 percent reported that such a leader increased performance and productivity. Also 81 percent said an inclusive leadership style motivated them to “go the extra mile beyond their day-to-day role.” If the study is any indication, inclusive leadership gets results.

To test how well a company’s management team does in embracing diversity, the Princeton, New Jersey company TMC has created an online survey that allows employers to test “the degree to which an individual applies principles and practices to build and sustain an inclusive environment.”

The company’s argument is that until you know how inclusive your management team is, how can you develop a way to promote social intelligence within your company. TMC says their program encourages an “open culture that is characterized by inclusive policies, processes, systems and practices.”

Although the struggle for workplace equality is of course far from over, companies like these are lighting the way by showing the rest of the world’s businesses what can be done to promote inclusive leadership and also how to do it.

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