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DEIA | Inclusive Leadership – The Precursor to Belonging

May 19th, 2022

As diversity and inclusion practice evolves, so do its organizational monikers. We started with Diversity, transitioned to Diversity and Inclusion, and depending upon the organization’s focus, additional words were added to the moniker like justice, access/accessibility, and belonging. According to the Cornell University article, Sense of Belonging, “belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group.” In A Theory of Human Motivation, A.H. Maslow shared that the third level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Social – the need for being loved, belonging, and inclusion). It’s a “deficiency need” because if not met, we experience anxiety and distress.  

Employees experience a sense of belonging when they can bring their authentic selves to work and contribute without repercussion. So, how can organizational leaders enhance their sense of belonging? Inclusive leadership. What do inclusive leaders do differently than others? They display inclusive leadership behaviors, cultivate equitable talent journeys, and make accommodations. Here’s some high-level information for each aspect of inclusive leadership and some critical actions for leaders to take. 

Display inclusive leadership behaviors 

Most successful companies have one thing in common, great leaders. When great leaders go the extra mile to be inclusive leaders, that’s where the magic happens. Here are 7 key actions leaders can take to be more inclusive. 

  • Be authentic, humble, and transparent 
  • Value differences 
  • Establish, communicate, and reinforce the common good 
  • Build a diverse and engaged team 
  • Create psychological safety 
  • Collaborate across the organization and involve key stakeholders in decisions that impact them 
  • Advocate for diverse and inclusive practices and policies across the organization 

Cultivate equitable talent journeys 

Equitable talent journeys require a foundation for talent development as a starting point. Most organizational leaders start by instituting a role-based competency model that defines the set of skills, knowledge, and mindsets needed to drive organizational goals in an equitable fashion. In addition to competency-based development, here are 4 key actions leaders can take to cultivate equitable talent journeys.  

  • Follow established talent management process and procedures 
  • Share the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion 
  • Expand both internal and external talent networks 
  • Build career planning and development strategies for every staff member 

Make accommodations

A leader’s proximity to the day-to-day work of employees makes them the best people in the organization to ensure that employees have the necessary accommodations to do their jobs. Here are 5 key actions leaders can take to ensure employees have the proper accommodations.  

  • Improve accessibility in the workplace (e.g., parking, expanded walkways and hallways, automatic door openers, etc.) 
  • Adjust written content to accommodate all employees 
  • Document processes and develop checklists 
  • Make necessary equipment changes 
  • Create capacity for participation in the company’s DEIA activities (e.g., employee resource groups, training, etc.)  

Psychological research tells us that humans have a need to belong. Without it, many employees experience undue stress, illness, decreased well-being, and depression, which are all counterproductive to high performance and innovation in individuals and teams. We encourage you to share this article with your leadership team and have a discussion to identify strengths and opportunities to enhance inclusive leadership in your organization. Feel free to schedule a DEIA Consultation to learn more. 

Sherrice Thomas 
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Access
SherriceThomas@columbus.org