Organisations require a new type of inclusive leaders who are able to lead diverse workforce and navigate times of great uncertainty.
The positive impact on culture and financial performances of diverse organisations is compelling. Not only are these organisations empowered to innovate and capitalise on new business opportunities, they are also more likely to outperform others in terms of profitability.
Indeed, a study by McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity, as well as gender diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. 1
However, leading a diverse workforce is no easy feat. More than ever, employees want to feel connected and included, especially in times of uncertainty and great change.
The Case for Inclusive Leaders
As the current global pandemic upends nearly every dimension of life and work, it is also upturning how businesses operate and conventional methods of effective leadership. Businesses have to pivot or are disrupted to survive and thrive. The impact of business transformations exposes an increasing gap between critical skills demand and readiness. This gap is re-shaping our workforce as well as creating an increasingly diverse and mobile demographics.
While a homogenous team will peak performance in the short-term, research has shown that diverse teams outperform a homogenous team over time. And it takes an inclusive leader to realise the potential of a diverse team.
Inclusive leaders do not provide superficial “feel-good” myths of diversity and inclusion. They are effective in leading diverse teams in business transformations as they have unique traits and disciplines that enable them to navigate constant change—a defining characteristic of today’s business landscape.
The core traits of an inclusive leader are authenticity, emotional resilience, self-assurance, inquisitiveness, and flexibility. These provide the foundations for leaders to develop essential skills to lead inclusively, such as the ability to build interpersonal trust, bring together diverse perspective, and make the most of the talent around them. Complementing with an adaptive mindset to achieve transformation.
It is important to note that these skills and competencies are not ‘soft skills’. When these leaders influence and enable the people around them, genuine business outcomes and opportunities are also realised, as shown through various studies. As we move forward into the phase of the pandemic with new norms abound, leaders will have an indispensable role to play in enabling organisations to innovate, grow, and remain competitive in the uncertain future.
What Organisations can do to Nurture Inclusive Leaders at all Levels
As the current pandemic disrupts global movement and fuels economic nationalism, diversity, and inclusion seem to have taken a backseat across many industries. A recent study by Korn Ferry 2 found that only five per cent of the 24,000 leaders assessed for the study could be classified as inclusive leaders (leaders who score in the top 25th percentile for six or more inclusive leader composites). In Singapore, this figure is even lower, at only 3.06 per cent.
Clearly, inclusive leadership does not just happen organically, even in the most developed nations or the biggest organisations. Businesses have to include diversity and inclusion as a strategic enabler. It requires commitment to develop a comprehensive plan, grounded in the desired business outcome.
Leaders have the opportunities to reflect and re-evaluate the skillsets they will need to steer their organisations through the next wave of change. Assessment and development of key leadership behaviours is fundamental to foster inclusive leadership from the top of the organisation. Broader capability development and re-design of internal systems and processes will enhance the capability to support a more diverse workforce.
The pandemic has forced organisations to disrupt the way they do things and re-think the capabilities they will need to thrive in a very volatile business landscape. They will need to find and nurture inclusive leaders, who can engage employees with empathy and motivate teams even when they are apart. Organisations that successfully cultivate inclusive leaders across all levels will reap the true benefits of diversity and inclusion and thrive in the post-pandemic era.
1 Vivian H, Dennis L, and Sara P, 01January 2015, Why Diversity Matters, McKinsey & Company. Accessed via: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters#
2 September 2020. Korn ferry, Head and Heart: Inclusive Leaders for an Equitable Future. Accessed via: https://focus.kornferry.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Head-and-Heart-Leaders.pdf
Ms Lee Yen Chin is an Associate Client Partner for Korn Ferry. Ms. Chin possesses nearly two decades of consulting, and business management experience across a diverse breadth of business-to-business industries. Her ability to translate and crystallise organisational requirements into practical solutions has served her clients well in her consulting career. Ms Chin is also passionate about helping business realise the true benefits of diversity and inclusion.
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