Creating an inclusive business culture should be one of the main objectives for all leaders. Inclusive business cultures make team members of all races, sexes, and ages feel more valued, welcomed, and heard within the organization. The more inclusive the workplace, the healthier it will be, the more productive your team will be, and the better you'll be as a leader.
There's only one catch: Most leaders are unaware of how inclusive they are within their organizations. Leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman completed a 10-year study that had more than 1.5 million people rate over 122,000 leaders. They also asked the leaders to rate their own abilities.
The leaders who struggled with creating an inclusive workplace were more likely to rate themselves higher. Those who were strong at creating a diverse, inclusive culture underestimated their own abilities.
Either way you slice it, leaders have a tough time accurately judging how inclusive they are.
I'm in the same boat as the leaders in the study. I'll never be able to tell how effective I am as a founder and CEO, but I've always known that there's constant room for improvement. I rely on my co-founders and team members to evaluate me regularly.
Personally, the best way I've found to do this is to get people to fill out a Google document anonymously with their criticisms and feedback. This way, their feedback can be unfiltered.
There's a misconception that being a leader means giving feedback and never receiving any. I'd argue the feedback you receive from your team is infinitely more valuable than the feedback you give your team. If I can see how people are interpreting my actions and taking their suggestions to heart I can take steps to creating a more inclusive environment.
So how can you create a more inclusive workplace?
1. Recognize your own bias.
You have an inherent bias toward certain ways of thinking and certain people on your staff. We all have biases and we all have the power to acknowledge it. As a leader, it's your responsibility to evaluate yourself and figure out what biases you have, and how to avoid letting them creep into your hiring/management decisions.
2. Promote collaboration among co-workers.
Collaboration is your friend as a leader. It gives your team members a sense of accomplishment on a project by contributing to it. Collaboration can come from assigned groups on projects or from more organic places like how your desks are arranged.
Having open work areas and mobile workstations allows for collaboration to happen organically between staff.
3. Don't dominate conversations, and prioritize listening.
Your job isn't to do all the talking during meetings. It's to have the best ideas and solutions brought forward. This largely depends on your ability to listen. By prioritizing listening over speaking, you are providing an opportunity for your business to become more inclusive and you're collecting more information.
Being inclusive is not about taking every suggestion and running with it. But it's definitely about hearing every suggestion.
4. Check your ego.
I've said this in past Inc.com articles, and I'll say it again.
You are not the star of the show--your people are. Your job is not to make you look good, it's to get the best results for your company and your people. If you shift your focus from how you can directly benefit to how you can benefit those within your company, naturally you'll become more inclusive.
Your team members are your business's lifeblood. Make the effort to enable their potential, rather than stifling it because of your ego.
5. Systematically design inclusive environments.
In Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull's book Creativity Inc., he opens with a story of how Pixar threw out a long, skinny table the staff had used for over 13 years to have meetings of upward of 30 people. What Catmull found was that the most senior employees would end up sitting near the middle of the table, systematically boxing out team members from the discussion being had. People at the ends of the table would not be able to hear or effectively contribute to the conversation.
It wasn't until Catmull had a meeting in a smaller room, with a square table, that he realized the long table in the other room was hurting inclusiveness in the creative process. With the square table, eye contact was more automatic, and conversation was much more invited. After realizing this, Pixar changed the big table for a square shape, and managers immediately noticed more of their team members getting involved during meetings.
For you as a leader, you need to find your metaphorical table to improve inclusiveness. This could be lowering cubicle walls, organizing staff gatherings, hosting all-hands meetings, or anything else that does the trick.