5 Minute Read

What Makes an Inclusive Leader?

By Elisa van Dam
July 20, 2021


As we were finalizing the manuscript for the Inclusive Leader’s Playbook, we sent it to a diverse group of “beta testers” to get their feedback. One insight came from Stu Kliman at Building Industry Products (look for his conversation with Susan Brady on the Better Understanding podcast). Stu noted that the title of the book raised a question for him – is an Inclusive Leader just concerned about inclusion, or do they need to engage with all aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Inclusive Leadership Defined

The short answer to Stu’s question is that we believe inclusive leaders are responsible for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (sometimes shortened to DEIB). They pay attention to having a diverse team, creating systems that promote equity, and fostering an environment where people feel uniquely valued and included. We have included all of these behaviors in our model of the Work of the Inclusive Leader™ (see model, above).

DEI language is constantly evolving

Stu’s question reminded me that the terms we commonly use are imprecise and constantly evolving. Many of us remember when organizations were just focused on diversity efforts. Then inclusion was added, as organizations recognized that it’s impossible to reap the benefits of diverse talent if that talent is silenced by the culture. As more organizations realized the need for systemic change, the word equity was added, followed most recently by belonging, which is about how people feel when they are at work. Deb Dagit, founder of Deb Dagit Diversity recently introduced me to an alternative acronym which I love: IDEA, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.

What’s next for DEIB?

Although I don’t know what the next buzzword will be, I’m confident that the language will continue to evolve beyond “inclusive leadership” in three to five years. Our goal is to accelerate the understanding and practice of inclusive leadership until there is broad recognition that these actions are critical for any leader. At that point we won’t need new terms – we’ll just call it leadership.

Interested to learn more? Here are some additional resources:

Beyond Diversity: How Firms are Cultivating a Sense of Belonging from Knowledge@Wharton

Interview with Deb Dagit on The Landscape podcast

The Key to Inclusive Leadership by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Titus

The Inclusive Leader Playbook: This easy-to use guide offers a wealth of tips and techniques for fostering a mindset of inclusion and creating a culture of equity in your organization. Available now on Amazon.com.

Watch the recordings from our Inclusive Leadership in Action Webinar Series:

Becoming Aware [Recording & Moderator Insights]
> How to get clear on your own values and blindspots, and learn more about the experiences, needs and concerns of others.

Becoming an Ally and Upstander [Recording & Moderator Insights]
> How to partner with others to support their success, and create conditions that allow everyone to feel that they belong.

Becoming a Change Agent [Recording & Moderator Insights]
> How to sponsor people from underrepresented groups and make changes in how work gets done so that everyone has equal access to opportunities.