The Business Case for Inclusive Leaders & Top Traits They Should Embody

The Business Case for Inclusive Leaders & Top Traits They Should Embody

The changes and challenges of 2020 have exposed new weaknesses and opportunities for organizations of all sizes, including with regards to recruiting and retaining top executive talent. Hot topics run the gamut, from remote work and employee-monitoring technology to gender equality and mental health support. Diversity and inclusivity has quickly moved to the top of the list of priorities, but how many companies understand what this ideology means and know how to get it right?

The Meaning of ‘Inclusive Leadership’

The Employees Network for Equity & Inclusion defines ‘inclusive leadership’ as “leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences and actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making.” Inclusive leaders see diversity as a competitive advantage and understand that individuals and groups bring unique experiences, characteristics, strengths, and viewpoints to the organization that can drive performance. McKinsey expands the definition to suggest, “Inclusion exists when employees share a positive connection to the organization and their peers (belonging), perceive that everyone has an equal chance of succeeding (equality), and feel safe to express thoughts, ideas, and concerns about work (openness).”

The Business Case for Inclusivity

Many companies have the awareness that the workplace experience can be different for minority groups than for what is often the white male majority. Employees of all backgrounds don’t always feel equally valued and supported and, because of this, may not always believe they have an equal chance to succeed. The problem is that leaders may be unsure of what to do with that information. One thing is certain, though: these concerns should not be ignored.

In an inclusive work environment, employees feel wanted, heard, and engaged; they are eager to join your organization and reluctant to leave. Consider these additional benefits:

  • Performance: Racially/ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better (McKinsey)
  • Cash flow: Diverse companies experience 2.3x higher cash flow per employee (Deloitte)
  • Revenue: Executive teams that are highly gender-diverse are 21% more likely to outperform with regards to profitability (McKinsey)
  • Decision-making: Diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time (Cloverpop)
  • Innovation: Inclusive companies are 1.7x more likely to be leaders of innovation (Deloitte)
  • Financial performance: Inclusive companies are 120% more likely to hit financial targets and see 1.4x more revenue (Gartner)
  • Agility: Organizations with inclusive cultures are 6x more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively (Deloitte)

The bottom-line is that inclusivity is a win for your employees, your company, and… your bottom-line.

Traits of Inclusive Leaders

Camber, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing workplace inclusion, equity, and diversity, asserts, “A diverse workforce does little without an inclusive leader who can leverage the diversity of people, thoughts, and experiences.” Failure to invest in leaders who embody inclusivity can significantly impair an organization’s growth, innovation, and performance.

Inclusive leaders typically embody the following leadership skills and traits:


Empathy refers to the ability to understand the needs of others and being aware of how their thoughts, feelings, and experiences may impact their perceptions and actions. Empathetic leaders spend more time listening and talking, which creates an environment of open communication, coaching, and constructive feedback.


Humble leaders admit when they make mistakes, recognize the inputs and contributions of others, share credit for successes, and want to learn and grow. With regards to a leader with true humility, Washington Post summarizes, “Recognizing his abilities, he asks how he can contribute; recognizing his flaws, he asks how he can grow.” Inclusive leaders also show their appreciation for employees’ hard work and contributions and regularly practice gratitude in the workplace. And they even go one step further to encourage, support, and promote their team and acknowledge the value of hard work.


Self-awareness is the ability to monitor your own emotions and reactions. It means assessing your feelings, why you feel that way you do, and how those feelings could elicit reactions. And it entails recognizing your own strengths, weaknesses, limitations, motivations, and triggers and not being afraid to ask for help or input. Being so in-tune with yourself enables you to be more adaptable and better equipped to manage uncertainty.


Curiosity inspires leaders to continually seek out new ideas, fresh perspectives, and different ways of doing business. It’s consistently asking ‘why’, what if’, and ‘how’ questions and wondering why things are a certain way. These approaches are what enables businesses to remain competitive, effectively navigate change, explore new and uncharted waters, and breakthrough ‘the way things have always been done’ mindsets.


Inclusive leaders welcome the ideas and perspectives of others and view mistakes as learning opportunities. They are in constant pursuit of new and better solutions but readily accept that they may not always be the smartest or brightest person in the room. With that in mind, they deliberately build teams that are diverse and that break through homogeneity and group think. They lead with a mindset of collaboration rather than competition and acknowledge that each contributor possesses their own set of skills and insights and is an equally valued member of the team. Another component of openness and collaboration is the willingness to delegate and empowers other with autonomy.

As human beings, we are all different and innately vulnerable in our own unique ways. Inclusive leaders embrace those differences and leverage those supposed weaknesses to create a more welcoming and all-encompassing diverse culture. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, only 12% of organizations have reached full maturity with regards to forming an inclusive culture, which spells plenty of opportunities for improvement. Inclusive leaders will not only embrace peoples’ differences but also leverage them, ultimately resulting in financial, operational, and strategic benefits for the company.

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