DEI Initiatives Should Start with Management

Diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) have become one of the most popular workplace topics of the year. More and more organizations start to establish new DEI-related leadership roles, such as a chief diversity officers or VPs of DEI to plan and lead organization-wide initiatives. With all these new initiatives coming to businesses, I think the best place to start is to improve leader inclusiveness.

I know what you’re going to ask: What do you mean by “leader inclusiveness”?

The term refers to words and behaviors displayed by leaders that encourage others’ involvement and appreciate others’ contributions.[i] Inclusive leaders will make efforts to invite others to share their voice in discussions, consult employees for their opinions in decision making,[ii] facilitate and support employee growth by providing clear feedback,[iii] and encourage collaboration.

In short: Inclusiveness needs to begin at the top to be most effective.

It was found that inclusive leaders work especially well in cross-disciplinary teams and teams with diverse backgrounds. They create a psychologically safe workplace for employees to speak up and feel supported to do so. Meanwhile, by creating psychological safety at work, employees are more likely to have better interpersonal relationships. They not only will go out their way to help each other but will go above and beyond for the organization.[iv]

Leader inclusiveness establishes a psychological diverse climate within the work unit because the leader sets a great example when it comes to embracing different opinions, backgrounds, values and beliefs.[v]

With such psychological diversity within the organization, actual diversity and inclusion will follow along.

Subordinates of inclusive leaders also perform better because they feel safe enough to try new approaches even though they may risk failing. Now they can learn from these success and failures to continue to improve (with the leaders’ feedback and support).[vi] Teams with inclusive leaders also show strong identifications with the team, making them proud to be a member of the team, work toward the team’s goals and act on the team’s best interest.[vii]

Leaders: Let’s take some time to examine your own leader inclusiveness and work to get better at it. Because it matters.

[i] Nembhard, I.M., & Edmondson, A.C. (2006). Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 941-966.

[ii] Yukl, G. (1994). Leadership in organizations (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[iii] Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science

Quarterly, 44, 350–383.

[iv] Randel, A. E., Dean, M. A., Ehrhart, K. H., Chung, B., & Shore, L. (2016). Leader inclusiveness, psychological diversity climate, and helping behaviors. Journal of Managerial Psychology.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Hirak, R., Peng, A. C., Carmeli, A., & Schaubroeck, J. M. (2012). Linking leader inclusiveness to work unit performance: The importance of psychological safety and learning from failures. The Leadership Quarterly, 23, 107-117.

[vii] Mitchell, R., Boyle, B., Parker, V., Giles, M., Chiang, V., & Joyce, P. (2015). Managing inclusiveness and diversity in teams: How leader inclusiveness affects performance through status and team identity. Human Resource Management, 54, 217-239.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.