Cultivating Equity: Essential Traits to Reach Bias-Free Leadership 

Diverse teams at work cultivating equity

Despite being familiar with the benefits that workforce diversity brings to companies of all sizes, leaders still face challenges in creating inclusive and diverse environments. And I, too, count myself among them. 

Forbes Insights on Global Diversity and Inclusion, for instance, stresses the need for a heterogeneous C-level board to advocate for diversity and inclusion efforts as both a moral and business imperative.  

Building on this, I aim to tap into the main aspects of inclusive leadership in this article, offering insights and practical steps towards an environment that champions bias-free behavior. 

Self-awareness: To Understand the Whole Picture, You Must Start With Yourself. 

As human beings, we are biased and partial. Throughout evolution, our brains have developed the ability to take “shortcuts”—or heuristics—to aid us with quick decision-making. Usually, this means that the mind automatically completes a missing part of the information we need to help us out, a process called cognitive bias. The problem is that these alternate routes often lead us to poor judgment based on biases we mostly don’t know we have: our unconscious biases.   

Since most of our thoughts develop on an unconscious level, we need to make an effort to access them. For a leader to be able to inspire change, they must go through a self-awareness journey, recognizing their bias and being able to consciously work on them.   

For instance, an inclusive leader knows that those biases influence how employees are hired and promoted, how tasks are distributed among them, and even how they receive different treatment. Acknowledging these biases is an important window into consciousness.   

So, how can we change our mindset to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion? 

Begin By Challenging Your Leadership Approach. 

Stop and ask yourself: in what ways have your background and experiences influenced your leadership? A team leader can often assign projects to team members from similar educational backgrounds as theirs or who “are more vocal in requesting such tasks,” for example. This introspection will help identify areas where conscious and unconscious biases may have swayed your judgment. 

Incorporate regular feedback and, powered by active listening, encourage workers from various roles to share their experiences in a manner that best suits them. It will help reveal blind spots in diversity so you can work on being fully aware of those issues and of your biases. 

Shift away from a one-size-fits-all mentality and recognize the diverse needs and perspectives within your team, so you can adapt your leadership style accordingly. 

And, of course, commit to ongoing training and education, while also inspiring others to join you in this learning journey. Attend workshops, read extensively, and engage with others to deepen your understanding. 

Develop These Six Traits to Become a More Inclusive Leader. 

As leaders, our behavior and positive power are of great importance in changing organizational culture, as we inspire the conduct of other people. 

Apart from some of the commonly known desired qualities of a successful leader, such as adaptability and empathy, for example, other skills stand out. Authors Bernadette Dillon and Juliet Burke highlighted six signature traits of inclusive leadership that reflect “a new way of leading teams,” which are: commitment, courage, curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, and cognizance or awareness of biases. 

The commitment trait involves a dedication to diversity and inclusion that is intrinsic to the leader’s beliefs and on par with the organization’s values. In turn, courage indicates a desire to change the situation to one in which diversity reigns. Meanwhile, to understand other people’s views, you need to be curious and open-minded to comprehend their experiences.  

Cultural intelligence then indicates being able to navigate through different cultural settings and a willingness to understand other world views, shying away from cultural stereotypes. An inclusive leader also needs to be collaborative, empowering individuals and understanding the potential of different thinking systems to drive innovation. 

Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of the sixth trait: Cognizance of biases. It’s is a leader’s awareness of their own prejudices and limitations. This closely relates to what we’ve been discussing in terms of the power of challenging your own predispositions in order to strive for a more bias-free leadership style. 

Help Make Inclusive Leaders. 

As senior Forbes contributor John Hall points out, “being a proactive leader is one of the best things you can do for your team,” and that is also true when it comes to cultivating inclusive leadership. For us to help shape leaders who embody inclusive principles in their approach.  

To achieve this, we need to both hire diverse talent and also create an environment in which they feel welcomed. This involves implementing policies that promote inclusion and respect for diversity as well, with awareness campaigns and conversation circles. 

Your Voice is Your Power: Giving Voice to Others 

When your organization prioritizes diversity and inclusion, you can tap into your workforce’s full potential and be successful in an increasingly complex and competitive market. Beyond benefiting from enhanced innovation, employee engagement, and talent retention, you’ll also contribute to a more equitable society.   

Set a starting percentage of minority groups occupying leadership roles within the organization; provide DEI training both for employees and for leaders; or, for instance, ensure a dudget for those initiatives, which should gradually increase over time. This World Economic Forum Insight report offers key lessons that can be of help as reference points to improve diversity efforts within your organization.   

In our spheres of influence, we each have the power to make a difference. It begins with recognizing and actively working to eliminate unconscious bias. It’s about embracing inclusive leadership that values diversity, not just as a checkbox but as a core aspect of how we operate.    

Yet, understanding that completely eradicating all biases may be unrealistic doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to challenge and reduce them. Leaders have the elements and tools to walk—and lead—their followers toward more diverse and plural companies, truly embodying the principles they advocate by turning rhetoric into reality.

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