There's no doubt that diversity is one of the most reliable sources of innovative ideas. But creating a diverse team is just the first step. To reap the rewards, leaders must create an inclusive workplace.

"Diversity and inclusion" are so often lumped together that they're frequently assumed to be the same thing. That's just not the case. Although they're two sides of the same coin, without either side the coin has no value.

In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation and lead to business growth won't happen. As noted diversity advocate Vernā Myers puts it, "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance."

What does it mean to be an inclusive leader? Research on the links between innovation, diversity and market growth from the Center for Talent Innovation has identified six key behaviors that are highly correlated with a "speak-up" culture, or an organizational environment where everyone feels free to volunteer opinions, suggest unconventional approaches, or propose solutions that fly in the face of established practice. Leaders who exhibit at least three of these behaviors tap innovative capacity by unlocking the full spectrum of perspectives, opinions, and toolkits that diverse individuals bring to problem-solving.

The behaviors are:

  • Empowers team members to make decisions.
  • Takes advice and implements feedback.
  • Makes it safe to risk proposing novel ideas.
  • Ensures everyone gets heard.
  • Shares credit for team success.
  • Gives actionable feedback.

Team members whose leader exhibits at least three inclusive behaviors are 71 percent more likely (87 percent vs. 51 percent) to feel welcome and included in their team than those who don't, 89 percent more likely (87 percent vs. 46 percent) to feel free to express their views and opinions, and 100 percent more likely (74 percent vs. 37 percent) to feel that their ideas are heard and recognized.

Inclusive behaviors come naturally to some leaders, but at a global professional services organization like EY, where the median age of managers is 27, inclusivity is a competency that's assiduously taught and continually reinforced in all of its offices in more than 150 countries worldwide. "Culture change requires substantial ongoing investment," observes Karyn Twaronite, EY Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer. "We've got to make sure any manager anywhere can lead a diverse team effectively."

Intensive training on this topic starts early in an EY professional's career (typically five years in, or when someone reaches the manager rank) and begins with an exploration of unconscious bias as part of a one- to two-day immersion called Leadership Matters. Every person promoted to manager spends time with Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, the Harvard psychologist whose seminal work on unconscious bias has transformed the way in which diversity and inclusion professionals approach leadership training. Participants do a self-assessment to determine where they might harbor bias. Armed with that awareness, they work with a coach to formulate a strategy to become consciously more inclusive.

Ultimately, by surfacing and addressing their biases, they hone not only their cross-cultural competencies but also their ability to bridge gender, service-line, and performance differences.

Leaders have long recognized that a diverse workforce whose teams have one or more members who represent the gender, ethnicity, culture, generation or sexual orientation of the team's target end user -- what's known as "matching the market" -- confers a competitive edge in terms of selling products or services to similar end users. In addition, our research shows that the entire team is far more likely -- as much as 158 percent more likely -- to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively for that end user. But their insights will remain locked unless leaders foster an inclusive culture.

In short, diversity without inclusion is a story of missed opportunities. Diversity with inclusion provides a potent mix of talent retention, engagement, and, as a result, innovation. The right leadership behaviors can create a workplace where innovation flourishes.

Published on: Oct 28, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.