Inclusion strategies for leaders

Inclusion is now an expectation in the workplace. Learn tips and strategies to help you provide and maintain an inclusive approach to leadership. 

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Inclusion is no longer just an ideal, it is the expectation for most employees whether they belong to an equity-seeking group or not. Witnessing even unintentional bias, stigma or discrimination can have negative effect on employees. Inclusion can be critical to attracting and retaining talent, is linked to organizational reputation and can impact the bottom line in terms of improving outcomes and avoiding litigation. Failure to provide an inclusive work environment can also be a Potential legal concern. Yet, how to instill and maintain an inclusive work environment may not be clear for some leaders today. 

Equity-seeking groups are those that have historically been denied equal access to employment, education, and other opportunities. In the workplace, this could include little or no representation in upper management and little or no ability to influence decisions at work. 

Inclusion is driven by the behaviours, words and actions of you, others in management, and coworkers. It is also driven by policies and procedures which are part of the organizational approach

Inclusion efforts are intended to instill a sense of belonging in every employee, and to improve commitment, performance, motivation and well-being. 

The following outlines some of the strategies for inclusive leadership for managers, supervisors and team leaders. There are also links for those who wish to delve deeper into assessing or addressing inclusion at work. Many of the suggestions are aimed directly at you as a leader, and some are to help you help your team become more inclusive, because you cannot do this on your own. It takes a concerted effort by each stakeholder.

Strategies and resources

Review the following and choose those strategies that feel most relevant and useful for you now.

Reflect on your leadership approach

Explore the questions found in Are you an inclusive leader? to consider what you might be unaware of or what you could do differently. 

  • Lead by example. Being a role model who speaks in an inclusive way, is respectful and supportive, acknowledges and values differences and is not afraid to admit to and take responsibility for making a mistake is the first strategy for inclusive leadership. 
  • Earn trust. If you do not currently have the trust of all of your employees, especially those who may feel excluded, or you want to continue to build and maintain trust, consider the many different elements involved by reviewing Building trust for leaders.
  • Check your bias. Performance management, especially when it comes to recognition, reward and promotion, are tied to inclusion efforts. When we accept that we all have implicit bias, we can use this knowledge to prevent it from having a negative impact on our employees. Learn how supportive performance management can make a difference and how to help avoid bias in your discussions with employees.
    • Tied to performance management is how we provide feedback and how we recognize the achievements of employees. Are we doing it equitably, or does our implicit bias mean we are more likely to feel, speak and react more positively to those who are similar to us? The most important element is to actually seek out and pay attention to the preferences that individual employees have for receiving both feedback and recognition. 

Reflect on team interactions

  • Create safe spaces. Encourage curiosity instead of judgment and be listening to understand instead of listening to critique. When we support everyone to be able to speak up and interact in a safe and respectful way, we increase inclusion and psychological safety. Once you have taught this to your team members, ensure that everyone understands how to address interrupting, sarcasm, disrespectful body language or facial expressions, and comments or jokes that disrespect any individual or group.
  • Develop awareness. Review the information found in Implicit bias and facilitate the workshop or team activities on this topic with your peers, colleagues or team. These eye-opening reflection activities can gently bring us to an understanding that we often have no idea what others have gone through in their lives, and little idea of what they are experiencing in their lives today. 
  • Co-create a team agreement. Work with your employees to uncover the difference between perception and intention, the assumptions we might make about the motives of others and how we can co-create a team agreement to reduce or eliminate these misunderstandings and to ensure that all members, including the leader, are respectfully held accountable. Intimidation, bullying or even very subtle microaggressions can have a profound effect on an employee’s performance and well-being. Often the impact is not intended, but the intention does not usually lessen the damaging outcomes. 
    • Review the informa tion in Hybrid teams if you have some staff working remotely. The tips and strategies found here can help you improve inclusion, even when some are on the worksite and others are not.
  • Assess to support continual improvement. Send the Psychologically Safe Team Assessment to those who report to you, to help understand how your team experiences your leadership support, interactions among team members and individuals’ sense of inclusion on the team. This assessment will also provide you with relevant resources, tools and strategies to take positive action.

Reflect on individual circumstances

  • Recognize employee concerns. There are circumstances that can make employees more vulnerable to subtle bias in the workplace. This can include mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, working in isolation, conflict at work, being a newcomer to the country or even to the job role, or going through any life stressor. Using a process like that found in Developing an employee plan could help you support work success, even when these other circumstances exist.
  • Co-create a plan. Ask employees explicitly how you can support them to be successful at work. Take time to get to know their learning and communication styles and their particular needs and preferences. Meet these needs where you can, and be transparent in explaining when you’re not able to. In Developing employee plans for leaders, you can find more strategies and resources to help you with this. 
  • Use supportive language. Sometimes we stumble with the words to say when someone is struggling for any reason. In the Supportive conversation library, there is guidance and actual suggested wording to help you and your team consider more effective ways to approach someone. There are many other tips and strategies for communicating with emotional employees

Inclusion and psychological safety

Inclusion is an integral part of a psychologically safe work environment. Inclusion should not be an approach that is only used when someone complains or is obviously struggling with stigma. If you are an inclusive leader for everyone, all of the time, it will contribute to the overall success of you and your team. This does not mean treating everyone the same. It means getting to know your employees and what best supports them to do a good job in a safe working environment, and providing clarity about expectations and measures of success.

The goal is to create an environment – virtually or in-person – where each person is supported to do their best every day. Doing their best on a bad day when their health, emotional state or circumstances are being challenged, may look different than doing their best on a good day. But if their energy and focused is optimized at work by a sense of belonging and the ability to be authentic, then every day can be one in which they can maximize their potential for that day.

Additional resources

  • Evidence-based actions for inclusion. These actions to improve inclusion can be implemented with a minimal investment in terms of expenses to the organization. They’ll take dedicated time and focus to implement and hold employees accountable to new approaches to working together in inclusive ways.
  • Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion resources. There are many other low-cost or no-cost training solutions available through the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI).
    • You may also like to explore the CCDI Leader Talks podcast.
    • Considering diversity, equity and inclusion at work can feel tricky, but it reaps many rewards for businesses and people. You can learn about success stories from various industries put together by the CCDI.
  • Psychologically safe leader assessment. This free resource helps leaders become aware of the impact they can have on the psychological health and safety of employees at work. It helps leaders improve communication, social intelligence, fairness and problem-solving.
  • The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: Thriving in a diverse new world. Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is driving the need for inclusion as a new leadership capability. This article outlines six attributes of leaders who display the ability to not only embrace individual differences, but to potentially leverage them for competitive advantage.


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Contributors include.articles(Dakota/Saulteaux/Nêhiyaw/Métis)Adam NeponAdriana LeighAngeline S. Chia, ICF Coach, IDI QA, M.Ed.(HRD)Annastasia LambertDavid K. MacDonaldDayna Lee-Baggley, Ph.D., R. Psych.Ekua QuansahErin DavisJade PichetteJune BuboireKerry GreeneLindsay BissettMary Ann BayntonMike SchwartzNancy J. Gowan,B.H.Sc. (O.T.), O.T. Reg. (Ont.), CDMPNicole StewartRuthann WeeksTanya SinclairTiana Field-RidleyTrinelle BrownValerie Pruegger, Ph.D.Workplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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