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This blog is provided by Taryn Oesch DeLong, managing editor of digital content for Training Industry. It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Research Findings on Women’s Access to Leadership Development that aired on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020.
“The coronavirus pandemic has cast an irrefutable spotlight on social and workplace inequity — and places an urgent demand on employers to lead responsibly and with compassion.”
This statement from a report by Time’s Up, the organization created by 300 women in the entertainment industry in response to the #MeToo movement, reflects a current concern of many leaders, especially those managing remote teams or creating leadership training programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interest in TrainingIndustry.com articles on topics related to leadership, supporting employees, managing in a crisis, and diversity and inclusion has increased in recent months — which is good. It means leaders, and learning and development (L&D) leaders in particular, are looking for ways to lead compassionately and equitably during a year that sometimes feels like a never-ending crisis.
In a recent article for TrainingIndustry.com, “Leading During a Crisis: Retooling Leadership,” Maureen Metcalf wrote that effective leaders, particularly during a crisis, have an “unwavering commitment to right action.” They identify the right course for the organization and its people, and they alter that course when needed. One right action, the importance of which has been highlighted by recent events, is inclusive leadership.
What Is Inclusive Leadership?
According to Training Industry’s glossary, “Inclusive leadership is present in organizations and leaders that make a concerted effort to promote and support diversity and equity in their teams and companies. Inclusive leaders create environments of transparency and psychological safety to encourage idea sharing and innovation by embracing perspectives from diverse backgrounds.”
In other words, leading inclusively means going beyond values statements and diversity pledges. It means ensuring equitable opportunities for all employees. It means creating an environment where people are valued for their intrinsic worth as human beings rather than on surface achievements or attributes. And, it means honoring each person’s unique gifts and contributions.
Why Is Inclusive Leadership So Important in a Crisis?
As months of COVID-19 have gone by, we’ve seen that the impacts of coronavirus have not been distributed equitably. People who already lived with inequities, such as people with disabilities and chronic health conditions and people of color, have been disproportionately affected both by the illness and by the economic fallout. And the challenges of working from home, often while managing a household with children and/or elderly family members, have placed an added burden on women, who already faced an often uphill climb to career success.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first crisis to have a harsher impact on disadvantaged groups of people, and it will not be the last. Fortunately, the more we develop leaders who know what it means to lead inclusively, the better equipped we will be to handle such crises in the future.
How Do Inclusive Leaders Support Their Employees?
Inclusive leaders not only strive to have teams that include diverse perspectives, but they also work deliberately to ensure that those diverse perspectives are honored and the people who share them feel that their gifts are valued and cultivated.
For example, Training Industry research has found that women who believe their managers support their career development are more likely also to have equitable access to leadership development when compared with men. This finding sounds obvious but is critical for organizations to understand, especially if they are to succeed during a crisis.
A manager’s job is not just to assign work and make sure it’s completed. In our current job market, workers are looking for jobs that go beyond putting food on the table and also provide them with development opportunities to grow their skills and advance their careers. LinkedIn Learning’s 2018 “Workplace Learning Report” found that 94% of employees would stay at their employer longer if it invested in their career, and the most common reason “employees feel held back from learning is because they don’t have the time” — in other words, their managers are not giving them support, in terms of time, to grow.
During the pandemic, employees who started working from home due to health and safety concerns found themselves with blurred lines between work and life, and many had to juggle their parenting or other caregiving responsibilities with their work responsibilities. With such demands on an employee’s time or energy, learning can all too easily fall by the wayside. During this crisis, inclusive leaders have sought with compassion to understand their team members’ needs and identify ways to support them. While it may have meant that their employees put less time in on the clock, it almost certainly meant that the work they did do was of a higher quality, because they were able to focus more of their energy on it.
How Can Organizations Develop Inclusive Leaders?
Including information on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in leadership training programs is important to developing inclusive leaders. DEI training is notoriously difficult to implement well, but in general, if a program goes beyond lip service, includes practical and relevant information, and is led by a credible instructor, it can be effective in cultivating inclusive leaders.
It’s also important to teach leaders how to coach and, especially, how to coach employees from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. Coaching is an effective tool for behavior change and personal development. It also, according to Training Industry research, can bridge the gender gap in leadership development access. Female survey respondents who had received formal coaching reported almost equal levels of access to leadership development when compared to male respondents. Inclusive leadership training, then, helps managers learn how to provide personalized coaching that meets the unique needs and preferences of their female employees.
Finally, as Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson, author of “INCLUSIFY: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams,” wrote in a TrainingIndustry.com article, “If we are to train leaders to be inclusive, we need to know what makes people feel included.” Her research identified uniqueness and belongingness as keys to an inclusive culture. In a work-from-home pandemic workforce, the ability of leaders to understand team members’ unique needs and make sure they feel like they belong is more challenging — and more rewarding — than ever.
Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
About the Author
Taryn Oesch DeLong is managing editor of digital content at Training Industry, where her work has received an APEX Award of Excellence and a Regional Bronze Azbee Award. She is also the co-host of “The Business of Learning,” the award-winning Training Industry podcast, and contributed to the 2020 book “Global Perspectives on Women’s Leadership and Gender (In)Equality” (Palgrave Macmillan). Taryn is the board secretary at The Power of the Dream, a nonprofit creating jobs for adults with autism and IDD in the Raleigh, N.C., area and a coach for Miracle League of the Triangle. She serves her faith community as managing editor of Catholic Women in Business and assistant editor and contributing writer for FemCatholic.