Set a new standard

Becoming a truly inclusive leader begins by evaluating your current leadership behaviour.

Making the case for diversity is pretty easy. The need to meet workforce demands of the future and compete on a global scale makes unlocking Canada’s diversity a business imperative. Moving the needle on inclusiveness, however, isn’t always straightforward. Companies can take meaningful steps to create a more inclusive environment but long-lasting change requires a cultural shift — and that needs leadership.

Becoming a truly inclusive leader begins by evaluating your current leadership behaviour. There’s always room for improvement and self-awareness is the essential starting point. Begin by asking yourself a few questions.

Am I aware of my own preferences and biases?


Consider how your personal frame of reference — your cultural background, experiences and beliefs — may influence your decisions and interactions. Then go one step further: consider how your actions may be perceived by others. By identifying these tendencies we can guard against the bias preventing us from making the best decisions.

Am I actively seeking perspectives different from my own?

Look closely at the people you seek out for high visibility assignments and leadership opportunities. Examine who you turn to for advice or strategic counsel. Are these groups merely reflecting the same characteristics, views and beliefs as your own? If so, you may be missing out on critically valuable insights. Successfully inclusive leaders make a habit of stretching outside their comfort zone for ideas and perspectives by bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Am I enabling everyone to contribute fully?

Understand the differences among your team members and other stakeholders. Remember, communication style varies from person to person and culture to culture. For instance, extroverts have a natural tendency to dominate meetings, but don’t forget that the introvert at the table may well have valuable insights to add.

Identifying real and perceived barriers to engagement is an important first step in creating an environment that encourages all team members to contribute.

Am I adapting my style to work effectively with others?

Identify how your behaviour may unintentionally obstruct effective teamwork and collaboration. It may mean demonstrating greater flexibility and empathy or watching for gaps between your intentions and actions or attitude.

Do I adequately accommodate differences?

When organizing social gatherings such as team-building activities, consider each team member’s needs, giving thought to such factors as the nature of the activity, the time of day, food restrictions and more. Make a concerted effort to understand and accommodate the needs of others — including time off for cultural or religious holidays. Acknowledging and accommodating differences can strengthen relationships with individuals and build loyalty and performance within teams.

Leaders have a responsibility to serve as role models for openness. By demonstrating inclusive behaviour and providing visible support for inclusiveness efforts, leadership can inspire positive change within organizations and throughout networks, unlocking the full potential of your teams.

Such leadership takes time, commitment and, above all, measurement. Sharing inclusive leadership plans broadly and encouraging team members and colleagues to provide feedback are valuable ways to support continued growth and can motivate others to follow suit. Successful leaders also track impact, not only to identify the key metrics that reveal progress and where further effort is required, but also to share those metrics to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to making change happen.

Leading by example is a powerful tool. Make the most of it to harness your organization’s full potential.

About the Author

Fiona Macfarlane


Fiona Macfarlane is managing partner of EY's British Columbia practice and the firm's chief inclusiveness officer.

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