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Inclusive Leaders: The Secret to DE&I Success


Our workplaces are becoming increasingly multicultural...

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than just buzzwords; they represent a fundamental shift in how businesses view their most valuable asset – their employees. 

It’s becoming clear that the most successful organisations thrive because their employees, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability status, feel valued, respected, and included. DE&I’s not about ticking boxes or meeting quotas; it’s about creating an environment where everyone can contribute their unique perspectives and skills, enhancing innovation, creativity, and overall business success.

But it’s no secret. Forbes’ recent article quoted Workday’s 2021 survey of HR and corporate leaders, sharing that 75% of companies now have a dedicated DE&I budget. 

Effective DE&I is not a one-time initiative or a top-down directive, though. Instead, it requires ongoing commitment from all levels of a business – and particularly its leaders. This is where inclusive leadership comes into play. And in this document, we’ll delve into the crucial role of inclusive leadership in the successful implementation of DE&I strategies.

We’ll also explore the characteristics of inclusive leaders, the benefits they bring to an organisation, and strategies for developing and nurturing inclusive leadership within your team.


The concept of inclusive leadership is rapidly gaining traction. The Employer’s Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI), a leading authority on workplace diversity, provides a comprehensive definition of inclusive leaders as:

“…leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. They see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organisational and individual performance.”

Inclusive leaders exhibit certain distinctive characteristics that set them apart. Perhaps you recognise them from your own workplace…

They’re those who genuinely appreciate individual uniqueness, promote diverse thinking as a source of innovation, and nurture a sense of belonging within their teams. And they’re the kinds of leaders who understand that inclusivity is not about assimilating into a pre-existing culture, but creating a new culture that embraces everyone’s distinct identities and experiences.

They demonstrate awareness of their biases, ensuring these don’t cloud their judgment or decision-making. Ultimately, they value diversity not just as a compliance requirement, but as a strategic asset.

In short, the impact of an inclusive leader is huge! By actively seeking out and considering diverse perspectives in their role, they make more informed, robust decisions. Their approach encourages diverse thinking and innovation, giving organisations a competitive edge. And importantly, they inspire diverse individuals to perform at their best, enhancing overall business performance and outcomes.


“Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, we have to put out the message that we embrace and not just tolerate diversity.” Nellie Borrero | Managing Director, Senior Strategic Advisor – Global Inclusion & Diversity at Accenture

The corporate world has seen a significant shift in recent years, with DE&I discussions taking centre stage. From board meetings to team building activities, DE&I themes are dominant, reflecting a growing recognition of their importance in creating successful, sustainable businesses.

DE&I is no longer viewed as a nice-to-have but an absolute necessity! A diverse workforce brings together a variety of perspectives, experiences, and skills, nurturing creativity, innovation, and adaptability. And equity ensures that everyone, regardless of their background or characteristics, has an equal opportunity to thrive and succeed. Inclusion, meanwhile, creates a sense of belonging, enhancing employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

The benefits of DE&I are well-documented. According to McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Wins’ report, companies with greater diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than their peers. This highlights the fact that DE&I isn’t just about social justice – it’s good for business too.

But while acknowledging the importance of DE&I is one thing; translating this awareness into meaningful action is another. Despite the increasing dialogue around DE&I, many companies still struggle to build truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. Challenges lie in overcoming deep-seated biases, dismantling systemic barriers, and driving cultural change.

So how do you make DE&I initiative effective? They need to be strategic, comprehensive, and embedded into the fabric of an organisation. And this involves not only diversifying recruitment and promotion but also creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued, respected, and heard.


So, we’ve highlighted how DE&I initiatives are not just a moral imperative but a strategic one. An increasing amount of research reminds us of the significant benefits of inclusivity – from boosting profitability to driving innovation and attracting talent. Here are some examples:

Boost Profitability

A study by McKinsey & Co. reveals a strong correlation between gender diversity and financial performance. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability compared to companies in the fourth quartile.

Fuel Innovation

Diversity’s a powerful driver of innovation. According to a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. This finding’s significant for the tech industry and start-ups – and in fact, any industry where innovation’s key to growth.

 Influence Jobseekers

Inclusivity also plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent. A survey by Glassdoor revealed that 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities. In an era where competition for talent is fierce, creating an inclusive environment can give companies a competitive edge.


“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Verna Myers | Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix

While diversity brings different perspectives and experiences into a company, it’s inclusivity that ensures these differences are truly valued, respected, and maximised. Inclusivity amplifies the benefits of diversity by providing a sense of belonging, enhancing employee engagement, and promoting a culture of fairness and respect. When everyone feels included, they’re more likely to contribute their unique ideas and perspectives, driving further innovation and performance.


With DE&I, measuring progress is crucial. While diversity and equity metrics are relatively straightforward to track – think numbers of employees from different demographics or pay equity analyses – inclusion can be harder to quantify.

“Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.”

Jesse Jackson | Activist

Diversity and equity metrics vs. inclusion metrics

Diversity and equity metrics are largely objective and quantifiable. They involve data gathering and counting representation – how many individuals of certain demographics are present in an organisation – and examining parity, e.g., whether all groups have equal access to opportunities and resources.

Inclusion metrics, on the other hand, are more subjective. Inclusion’s about how individuals feel within the workplace: 

      Do they feel valued? 

      Do they feel they belong? 

      Do they feel their perspectives are respected and heard?

And these kinds of questions aren’t so easily measurable.

This subjective nature of measuring inclusion can make it a real challenge. Inclusion’s about personal experience and perception. And both of these can vary widely from person to person. What might feel inclusive to one person may not feel the same to another. This subjectivity means that capturing accurate, meaningful data on inclusion requires a slightly different approach that goes beyond traditional surveys and numerical data.

Common questions and issues in measuring inclusion

Organisations often grapple with several common issues when trying to measure inclusion. For one, how do you define and standardise ‘inclusion’ in a way that accurately captures it? How do you ensure that the metrics used truly reflect the experiences of all employees, not just the majority?

And perhaps most importantly, how do you create a safe space where employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences and perceptions? After all, fear of retribution or being seen as a complainer can often lead employees to hold back true feelings, skewing the results.

Despite these challenges, measuring inclusion isn’t impossible. It requires a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, from employee surveys and focus groups to exit interviews and observational studies. It also requires a culture of trust and openness, where employees feel safe and heard.


We know how important inclusivity is to your strategy. Let's delve into specific business initiatives that can help promote inclusion. Promoting inclusion requires a multifaceted approach - from creating an inclusive culture to implementing inclusive practices and measuring progress.

Creating an inclusive culture: This starts from the top. Leaders need to champion inclusion and set the tone for the entire organisation. They must communicate the importance of inclusion, demonstrate inclusive behaviour, and hold everyone accountable for an inclusive environment.

Implementing inclusive practices: This involves reviewing and updating policies, procedures, and practices to ensure they’re inclusive. It could include diversifying recruitment and promotion processes, providing flexible working arrangements, and offering training and development opportunities to all employees.

Making employees feel included: Regular check-ins, team-building activities, and open communication channels can help employees feel valued and heard. Encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas and recognising contributions can also enhance a sense of inclusion.

Measuring inclusion: Measuring inclusion can be challenging due to its subjective nature, but it’s crucial for tracking progress and identifying areas for improvement. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups can provide valuable insights into employees’ perceptions of inclusion.

There are several incentives for prioritising inclusion – we’ll look at them in more depth next.


Did you know inclusivity is your secret weapon for success? The Pride Business Forum shares that “companies with the most globally diverse boards (both ethnically and culturally) are 43% more likely to be more profitable” due to various experiences, perspectives, and approaches to problem solving. 

But exactly how does inclusivity equal profitability, productivity, and several other benefits. Here’s a breakdown of the advantages and the reason behind them:

Increased productivity: Inclusion boosts productivity by enhancing employee engagement. Employees who feel included are more engaged, and engaged employees are more productive. Deloitte found that when employees feel included, they’re twice as likely to meet or even exceed performance targets.

Higher revenue: There’s a strong correlation between inclusion, diversity, and financial performance. Inclusion amplifies the benefits of diversity by ensuring that diverse voices are truly heard and involved in decision-making. A Gallup study concluded that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. 

Enhanced company reputation: Companies that prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion also enhance their reputation. They’re seen as progressive, socially responsible, and attractive to prospective employees, customers, and investors. 

Promoting inclusion is key to channelling the power of diversity and creating a thriving, successful business. With strategic planning and commitment, organisations can build inclusive workplaces where everyone feels valued and can contribute their very best.


The secret ingredient for an inclusive workplace? It’s leadership. 

Inclusive leaders influence the culture and practices of their organisations, setting the tone for how diversity and inclusion are approached. They’re role models whose attitudes, behaviours and decisions are influential and inspiring. When a leader deploys a range of strategies to ensure inclusivity, the possibilities for both individuals and their business are endless.

And it’s not just the business inclusive leaders can impact. Let’s not overlook the power of inclusive leadership on individuals too. When leaders exhibit inclusive behaviour, they create a safe and welcoming environment where everyone feels valued and heard. This enhances employee engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction. Research by Catalyst, a global non-profit helping build workplaces that work for women, found that employees who feel included are more likely to innovate and team-collaborate, leading to better business results 

So how do they do it?

Inclusive leaders may adopt a variety of strategies to promote inclusivity, including:

They have a visible commitment to diversity and inclusion: They openly communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion, setting expectations for inclusive behaviour and holding everyone accountable.

They demonstrate humility and self-awareness: Inclusive leaders acknowledge their own biases and gaps in knowledge. They seek feedback and are willing to learn from others, regardless of their rank or background.

They show curiosity about team members: They show genuine interest in their team members as individuals, valuing their unique perspectives and experiences, and creating a culture of respect and appreciation for diversity.

They’re passionate about collaboration: Inclusive leaders encourage collaboration, creating opportunities for diverse teams to work together and learn from each other.

They adapt to and show awareness of different cultures: They respect and adapt to different cultural norms and expectations, ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and valued.

They focus on the success of the group as a whole: They prioritise collective success over individual achievements, growing a sense of shared purpose and belonging.


“Why be a star when you can make a constellation?” Mariam Kaba | Writer of ‘We Do This ‘Til We Free Us’

Inclusive leadership’s more than just a trend; it’s a powerful channel that can transform organisations, creating a culture of respect, collaboration, and innovation. It can be described as a domino effect in that it encourages employees to embrace inclusive practices. This can lead to cultural shift. And that’s why the responsibility of senior leadership and management in setting an example are so important. They play a major role in leading the way.

This kind of knock-on effect goes beyond immediate team dynamics. It signals to everyone that these are important priorities, and senior leaders have the power to influence inclusive policies and procedures. They impact how employees interact with each other, how decisions are made, and even how external stakeholders perceive the organisation.

Encouraging employees to embrace inclusive practices

Essentially, inclusive leaders are central in encouraging employees to embrace inclusive practices. It’s not just about example setting – leaders can also provide training and create opportunities for employees to learn about and appreciate diversity. 

Importantly, inclusive leaders recognise and reward inclusive behaviour. This reinforces the message that inclusion is valued and expected. Over time, this helps to embed inclusive practices into the company’s DNA – inclusivity becomes a natural part of how the business operates.

“You have a responsibility to make inclusion a daily thought, so we can get rid of the word ‘inclusion.’” Theodore Melfi | American Producer


If you’re looking for a quick fix, you may be disappointed. Creating an inclusive workplace is a long-term journey. It requires commitment, perseverance, and patience. It’s not an overnight transformation but a gradual, top-down process. Creating an wholly inclusive company is challenging…but the rewards are immense!

The gradual and top-down nature of inclusivity

Essential in encouraging inclusivity is the process of changing mindsets, behaviours, and systems. This change must start at the top. 

Why? Well, a top-down approach, headed by inclusive leaders ensures that the message of inclusivity is clear and consistent. But for this message to translate into meaningful change, reinforcement at all levels is key. It’s about middle managers and team leaders – not only senior execs – being onboard and sharing values to encourage inclusivity.

Inclusivity challenges

It’s not easy though. Cultivating inclusivity throughout an organisation can be challenging. Each department, team, and individual will have unique perspectives, biases, and even resistance to change. And overcoming these barriers requires ongoing education about the benefits of diversity and inclusion, open dialogue about biases and stereotypes, and strategies to promote inclusion in everyday practices.

And let’s not forget inclusivity isn’t just about diversity in demographic characteristics like race, gender, or age. It also includes diversity in thoughts, experiences, and abilities. Creating an environment where this broad spectrum of diversity is recognised, valued, and included can be complex and demanding.

Despite these challenges, investment in inclusivity is worthwhile.


Inclusive leaders are a vital component in your DE&I success. We’ve covered how inclusive leaders are those who can create an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. And it’s these leaders who through DE&I initiatives, foster a culture of inclusivity, innovation, and performance.

Inclusive leaders set the tone for the whole organisation, influencing attitudes, behaviours, and practices at all levels. 

Organisations must prioritise inclusivity. It’s not just about doing what’s right; it’s also about doing what’s best for your company. 

At Solutions Driven, we’re experts in diverse hiring. We understand the power of diversity and the critical role of inclusive leadership in unlocking this power. We’re committed to helping organisations build diverse teams and cultivate inclusive leaders who can drive DE&I success.

Are you ready to invest in inclusive leadership? The journey may be challenging, but the rewards are huge. With commitment, perseverance, and the right support you can build, a more inclusive, equitable, and successful future for your organisation. 

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