top of page
  • Imogen Cox

How to be an Inclusive Leader: Fostering Diversity and Equity

Portrait of Mark Benihoff

The key to organisational success, growth, and innovation goes beyond traditional leadership concepts. Research has demonstrated that organisations with diversity, particularly in racial and ethnic dimensions, were 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median. Similarly, those with a higher organisational diversity in gender were found to be 15% more likely to have a greater financial performance (1). These statistics show that diversity can directly enhance organisational performance.   


A leader inspires, motivates, and directs others towards a shared goal or vision. However, challenges can arise when navigating and working with a diverse range of individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and approaches. Simply building a diverse team does not always translate to excellent performance or a thriving workforce immediately; this is where inclusive leadership comes in. Inclusive leadership is fundamental for ensuring teams work seamlessly together while making members feel valued, respected, and inspired.  


This blog will explore the significance of inclusive leadership and propose practical strategies for inclusive leadership development.  


Understanding Inclusive Leadership 

Inclusive leadership is a leadership approach that values team members, embraces diverse perspectives, and respects everyone’s uniqueness in an empathetic and bias-free way (2). Embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive environment can drive employee innovation and enhance problem-solving, significantly benefiting an organisation's development and competitive advantage (3). Another fundamental component of inclusive leadership is the capacity to establish deeper connections with people. By cultivating empathy, leaders promote and build a work environment where people feel heard, seen, and understood, which can contribute to increased collaboration, inclusion, and a sense of belonging (4). Empathy and humility complement each other; being open and honest about one's weaknesses and mistakes and being kind and caring creates a sense of personal connection, encouraging people to share feedback and contribute to shared decisions (4). This creates a workplace that attracts and retains top talent, driving long-term success and sustainability (5).  


The Foundations of Inclusive Leadership  

At the core of inclusive leadership are the 6 Cs, the fundamental characteristics that distinguish the concept from conventional leadership styles. These six signature traits help a leader promote diversity and inclusion alongside aiding the creation of a cohesive and productive team (6).  

  • Curiosity: Leaders have an open mindset and seek to understand their team's different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. This encapsulates openness, perspective-taking, and coping with uncertainty.  

  • Cultural Intelligence: Inclusive leaders understand and appreciate diverse cultural norms, values, and communication styles. They are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions and take an active interest in learning and gaining more knowledge, while remaining adaptable.  

  • Collaboration: They empower individuals and leverage the strengths of individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

  • Commitment: Inclusive leaders actively advocate diversity and inclusion. This aligns with their values of inclusion and belief that it is a business priority.  

  • Courage: Leaders challenge the status quo, address bias, and engage in difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion. They are fearless in the face of change and maintain their humility regarding their own strengths and weaknesses. 

  • Cognisance: Inclusive leaders are self-aware of their biases, assumptions, and perspectives. Prioritising self-regulation and fair play are crucial. 


Practical Strategies and Leadership Development for Inclusive Leadership

Practical strategies that organisations can look to integrate to embrace inclusive leadership include establishing diversity and inclusion policies that highlight inclusive leadership, development programs, and diversity and inclusion training to equip the workforce with the proper knowledge, skills, and mindset towards inclusivity.  


Similarly, establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs to nurture diverse talent and high-potential leaders can be instrumental in advocating and creating opportunities for underrepresented individuals. Additionally, recognising and rewarding leaders and team members for their inclusive behaviours can help reinforce the culture and environment of inclusivity. By considering the adoption of these strategies, organisations can create a workplace where inclusivity is a norm and adds to the organisation's success and sustainability (6).  


Inclusive Leadership- Salesforce Case Study  

Salesforce is a market-leading global CRM software provider. Salesforce advocates for diversity and inclusion initiatives, which have become integral to the company’s culture. Salesforce has committed to equality, ensuring equal opportunities to build a career within Salesforce regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or disabilities (7). Their continuous efforts to create an inclusive environment have included practices such as promoting equal pay, providing extensive diversity and inclusion training, hiring diverse talent, and establishing a Chief Equality Officer position. 


Marc Benioff, the co-founder and CEO of Salesforce, is the significant driving force behind these inclusion initiatives. He is a pertinent example of someone who embodies the role of an inclusive leader and aims to ‘make the world a better place.’   


Additionally, Salesforce is very transparent and takes accountability for its equality and inclusion plan. They have set goals and targets, which are continuously reviewed and can be monitored on the website. For example, they aim to increase the U.S. representation of African American, Indigenous, Latino, and multiracial employees by the end of 2023. Similarly, by the end of 2026, they are aiming for 40% of employees globally to be women-identifying and non-binary (8).  


Salesforce demonstrates the positive impact of an inclusive leader and the art of inclusive leadership on their organisation's workplace environment. This approach has helped foster innovation, attract new talent, and increase its profitability and overall performance.  


In conclusion, embracing diversity, empathy, and strategic goals through inclusive leadership can improve organisational growth and success. Leaders may enhance this by encapsulating the 6 C’s—curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, commitment, courage, and cognisance to promote team cohesion further. Salesforce, guided by Marc Benioff's commitment to transparency and equality, is a prominent example of the tangible benefits of inclusive leadership, fostering innovation, attracting diverse talent, and elevating overall organisational performance. 


bottom of page