Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Cognizance of bias, Courage, and Commitment are at the core of an inclusive workplace culture where gender equality can be realized and diverse teams can thrive.
The 21st Century - A Decade for Women’s Equality
In a recent public appearance in New York City, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, called on everyone to make greater efforts to ensure women’s equality and equal participation for all.
And he was not shy to confront the issue head-on.
“From the ridiculing of women as hysterical or hormonal, to the routine judgment of women based on their looks; from the myths and taboos that surround women’s natural bodily functions, to mansplaining and victim-blaming – misogyny is everywhere” --United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres
And there is no time like the present. January 2020 marked the start of a Decade of Action to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to build peaceful, prosperous and inclusive societies while also safeguarding the health of the planet.
With CEO leadership at 22% women globally, and female Heads of State at 21%, moving from a society that still preferences a mans success over a woman, is going to take some transformative leadership skills. Especially as women routinely outperform men in education, however, they still earn less once in the workforce. So how do we move towards a more inclusive and equal approach? And what is inclusive leadership anyway?
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Inclusion in an organizational context means that all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal opportunities and resources and can contribute fully towards an organization's success.
Empowering staff to contribute their best requires inclusive leaders that are: authentic, self-aware, knowledgeable, transparent, empathetic, result-orientated, manage less, passionate and trustworthy. Inclusive leadership translates into high performing organizations that: attract top talent, maintain high levels of employee engagement and produce higher profits than competitors.
With the business case for inclusive leadership so clear, it is worth considering how we can start to change a system that prevents women from achieving their potential. Here are three core ingredients of inclusive company cultures. They are from Deloitte’s six traits of inclusive leaders.
Cognizance of bias
Bias is at the heart of most of the discrimination against women and historically disadvantaged groups. The difficulty with bias is that it is like a form of blindness. Many people are not aware that they are treating people differently based on subjective and diverse qualities. Bias can be subtle and difficult to identify while pointing the finger at people who are clearly biased towards others, does not help. A good way to start to cultivate cognizance of bias across the organization is to ask people if they have ever felt like they were treated differently, based on their gender, age, nationality, religion, level of ability, or any other factor. This exercise usually opens the door for each individual to see that bias is an issue that affects everyone in different ways and can help to cultivate self-awareness, as well as compassion for others.
Talking about the imperfections that we all share takes a certain level of courage. Challenging the status quo requires a leader that is comfortable taking a risk because tackling practices that promote homogeneity will no doubt invite personal attention. That’s why an inclusive leader is also a courageous leader and encourages everyone in the organization to also play a role in supporting each other to speak out. This can start to normalize the practice of actively challenging deeply held beliefs and attitudes that do not embrace inclusion or diversity.
Cultivating an inclusive workplace culture takes a certain level of commitment. That’s why highly inclusive leaders have personal values, such as fairness and equal opportunity, that naturally reflect a commitment to inclusion. On top of that, they also believe in the business case for diversity and inclusion.
Cognisant of bias and with the courage to challenge the status quo, António Guterres is demonstrating inclusive leadership skills. It will be interesting to see if he follows through with a commitment to realize an inclusive culture within the UN (20+ years predicted for gender parity at P5 levels and higher).
Contributing to a dialogue on gender equality in your organization may require some additional courage and clarity, but everyone can help to cultivate a workplace culture where equal participation is the norm and diverse teams can thrive.
With some final words from António Guterres: ’It is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential.”