Inclusive Leadership: Building A Psychologically Safe Workplace
Sarah Tabet - Human Resources Leader
Sarah Tabet is an HR professional with more than a decade of well-rounded multinational experience in the human resources field. She is currently based in Dubai and providing global strategic HR leadership support, business partnering and executive coaching to senior leaders in multiple geographies heading the HR department at Siemens Energy. Sarah is a global expert in Diversity and Inclusion topic, an advocate of this topic globally, a frequent speaker at regional and local conferences and has also been featured in several publications related to HR, personal development and the D & I topics. To reinforce the message on DEI even further, she has published the book “Inclusion Starts with U” to drive further the conversation and inspire transformation in this space.
Inclusive leadership is evolving as a unique and critical skill and capability helping organizations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and the needs of the current workforce. Leaders need this new skill to enable equity and Inclusion in the workplace andprovide their teams with psychological safety.For those working around managers be it as a direct report or a peer, the single most important trait generating that sense of inclusion is a leader’s visible awareness of bias and expressing both humility and empathy when acknowledging their own biases.
Diverse teams can make us aware of blind spots and craft novel, innovative solutions. But these benefits don’t just happen. They appear when managers and leaders draw out the unique perspectives and contributions on their teams and build on differences effectively.
How then can we become better leaders who tap into the potential of all of our people?
The key – inclusion. Inclusive leadership.
If we were to understand inclusive leadership, we need to understand a lot of things about psychology and the way our human brain works.Reflecting on my own career, and being born and raised in a homogeneous environment, I have not had major opportunities to learn much fromdiverse perspectives up until I joined amultinational environment where expats from all over the world contributed in their own ways and shared their diverse perspectives. This has surely taught me the benefit of opening up to the diverse ways of working/ communication/ perspectives/ mindsets and of course the positive impact it has on the business. Being an HR professional myself and having beentrapped so many times into hiring “cultural fits” made me also realize its limited impact on building a creative and disruptive team that could help shake the business and promote inclusive leadership across.
Based on my experience in DEI, coupled with research in the field, to understand Inclusive Leadership, it is important for managers to also understand what their teams expect when requesting psychological safety. So, what is psychological safety?
In a workplace environment, we feel safe when we belief that we won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It is a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for sharing ideas, taking bold bets and risks when disrupting conventional ideas, or soliciting feedback. That space can only be created by managers who understand its importance and are focused on developing their inclusive leadership and enhancing the performance of their teams.
below are 7 signature traits of “Inclusive Leaders”:
1. Observable commitment: They are loyal ambassadors and articulate authentically their commitment to diversity beyond achieving the KPIs. They challenge and hold others accountable and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.
2. Humility: They accept that they are vulnerable, prone to making mistakes and admit that they are on a journey of developing Inclusive leadership. Becoming more aware is critical to self-development, but awareness in isolation is not sufficient.Without humility and empathy/perspective taking, it’s difficult for leaders to gain deep insights into the nature of their blind spots or remedial strategies and, therefore, to grow.
3. Mindfulness of bias: They accept that they are biased by nature and share personal blind spots. They challenge the status quo of policies and processes (hiring, meritocracy...)
4. Curiosity: They demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and seek with empathy to understand those around them.
5. Cultural competence: Cultural competence is the ability of a person to effectively interact, work, and develop meaningful relationships with people of various cultural backgrounds. Cultural background can include the beliefs, customs, and behaviors of people from various groups. Gaining cultural competence is a lifelong process of increasing self-awareness, developing social skills and behaviors around diversity, and gaining the ability to advocate for others. It goes beyond tolerance, which implies that one is simply willing to overlook differences. Instead, it includes recognizing and respecting diversity through our words and actions in all contexts.
6. Collaboration: They are team players, they empower others, pay attention to diversity of ideas and makes sure not to judge or penalize others for disruptive ideas. They are focused on providing psychological safety and cohesive team.
7. Disruption: They combat old-fashioned paternalistic leadership styles and do not accept to be bystanders in toxic environments.
Although this might sound like a “to do” list, it is not a tick in the box one and easy to implement. These traits go hand in hand with major cultural shifts in an organization and mindset change where a lot of people get involved. These change efforts gain momentum and power through the size of the movement, the spread to others and not only through the size of the individual’s effort to adjust behavior. If you ask me what I consider the most important trait, I will definitely rate“Observable Commitment” as the most critical, as without it, the other five can’t be fully established.
We know that, regardless of the industry, today leaders play a big role in how an organization or team develops. Remaining agile and able to adjust for the needs of customers, markets, and employees has pushed inclusive leadership forward as a top requirement and critical skill.
My question to you and based on your own assessment vs the 6 signature traits, howInclusive are you?