6 min read

Inclusive Leadership: Definition, Examples & Best Practices

May 26, 2022

Inclusive Leadership

Building an inclusive workforce and developing more inclusive leaders is key for long term business success. 

That’s because:

  • An inclusive workplace is 6X more likely to be innovative than one that isn’t. 
  • An organization with inclusive leadership is 2X more likely to meet or surpass its financial goals. 
  • Employees working in inclusive teams are 42% more likely to stay in their role and not look for another position. 

But inclusive leaders are rare. 

Research by Korn Ferry revealed that out of 24,000 leaders, no one ranked in the top 25 percentile for all 10 competencies and traits when benchmarked against their inclusive leader model. And only 5% of leaders ranked in the top 25 percentile for six or more competencies. 

Meaning organizations need to urgently start developing more inclusive leaders. 

So, what can you do to develop an inclusive workplace culture? How can you manage your managers, and help them upskill with inclusive leadership traits?

Let’s find out.

Inclusive leadership

What is meant by inclusive leadership?

Different organizations define inclusive leadership in various ways. Deloitte, for example, has identified six signature traits of an inclusive leader. Whereas the Employer’s Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI) suggest that inclusive leaders “are aware of their own biases and preferences” and “actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making".

What we mean by inclusive leadership is a hybrid of both of these. 

When we talk about inclusive leadership, we mean senior leaders and HR executives who have made a decision to embody an inclusive leadership approach. 

For us, inclusive leaders: 

  • Are aware of their own biases and preferences and take steps to mitigate them. 
  • Intentionally seek out and consider differing perspectives to better inform their decision making. 
  • Are committed to collaborating with others. 
  • Treat all team members equitably, ensuring everyone has a sense of belonging and value. 
  • Provide the necessary resources and support to all team members to help them reach their full potential. 
  • Ensure their teams are heard, are respected, valued, and retained.
  • See diversity as a competitive advantage and are able to inspire diverse people to work to a high performance.

The importance of inclusion in teams

High performing teams aren’t a coincidence. They’re the result of strong recruitment, staffing and training strategies, with a focus on creating an inclusive, high performance culture

And there is a reason that diversity and inclusion are paired together. One can not yield results without the other—diversity does not exist without inclusivity.

For example, diverse employees will not provide a competitive advantage if they do not feel heard, respected and valued. 

Research by Gartner shows that inclusive teams perform 30% better in a high diversity environment. But, improved team performance only happens if there’s inclusive leadership at the helm. 

According to Deloitte

  • Inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report their team as high performing
  • Inclusive leaders are 20% more likely to make high quality decisions
  • Inclusive leaders are 29% more likely to report the team as behaving collaboratively

Traits of inclusive leaders

We previously compiled a complete list of people management skills, highlighting inclusivity as a key characteristic of a good manager. But what does an inclusive leader actually look like? 

Let’s look at this in more detail: 

1. They are visibly committed to improving diversity and inclusion

An inclusive leader doesn’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. They make D&I a personal priority, always demonstrating their authentic commitment to diversity and challenging the status quo, and they hold others accountable to do the same. 

2. They have humility by the bucketload

They are aware of their own limitations, they don’t profess to have all the answers. They actively seek out differing perspectives. They admit their mistakes and they hold themselves accountable. They create space to allow everyone to contribute. 

3. They're aware of their own biases

They are self aware and understand their own biases and take steps to mitigate them. They believe in and adhere to meritocracy.

4. They're naturally curious and lead with empathy

An inclusive leader has a propensity for learning—they have a growth mindset and are open and curious to learn others’ perspectives. They actively listen and they lead with empathy in order to better understand their team members. 

5. They enable collaboration

Inclusive leaders enable effective collaboration by empowering those around them. They work to improve psychological safety and unlock the potential of their diverse team by promoting inclusivity and team cohesion.

Inclusive leadership examples at global organizations

If those are the traits of inclusive leaders, what does inclusive leadership look like in practice? 

Let’s take a quick look at examples of inclusive companies—global behemoths such as McDonald’s, Deloitte, Salesforce, and Google, and learn how they practice inclusive leadership.


McDonald’s has a gender diversity strategy called BETTER TOGETHER: Gender Balance & Diversity Strategy. They have also delivered bias awareness training to over 10,000 employees and are in the process of rolling out the training globally. 


Deloitte approaches inclusive leadership as a skill that can be learned. As such, they’ve created a framework for inclusive leadership among their male employees, while disbanding their women’s network and other affinity groups. 


Salesforce champions inclusivity in everyday interactions between team leads and team members. They’ve taken steps to ensure inclusive leadership happens at the grassroots level, creating an environment where people feel included by encouraging authentic conversations, holding inclusive meetings, distributing fair work assignments etc. 


As a data led company, Google helps leaders make better inclusive decisions by delivering key D&I data to senior leaders in the form of a diversity data report. For them, data is the catalyst for change as well as being a key indicator for progress. 

How to develop inclusive leaders

So, that’s how the big players do it, but what can you do to develop inclusive leaders within your organization? 

Here are seven tips: 

1. Diagnose the issues

Identify the areas where leaders need help. Collect as much D&I data as you can across your teams using employee analytics, employee surveys, and qualitative feedback. 

You’re looking for metrics that include representation, retention, recruitment and selection, promotion opportunities, development initiatives, as well as pay and rewards including benefits, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction scores. 

When you have a clear picture of your organization’s D&I situation, you are better placed to engage your leaders and bring about cultural change. 

2. Get leader buy-in

Educate leaders so they have a clear understanding of what the benefits of developing inclusive leadership are to them. Outline the link between your organization’s D&I initiatives with business outcomes. 

When people can see not only how they are benefited, but how their actions can bring about change, they are more motivated to drive efforts in an authentic and sustainable way. 

3. Humanize the need for D&I

Engage leaders emotionally on the issues. Incorporate the lived experiences of some of your diverse employees in inclusivity training and development programs. 

Wendy Makinson, HR manager at Joloda Hydraroll says: 

“It's important that leadership teams understand exactly what inclusivity means, and how it impacts not just their teams but the entire workforce. Listen to your employees; sometimes it can be really hard to understand how it feels to be excluded if you have never been in that situation.”

Showing rather than telling engages the emotional brain rather than the rational brain, fostering empathy and increasing managerial motivation and commitment to make change. 

4. Provide inclusive leadership training

Don’t just encourage managers to be more inclusive, provide them with formal training to help them develop the essential skills they need to become more inclusive leaders. 

Equip them with the tools and resources to help them embed this skill into their everyday work and regular interactions with team members. Help them build the habits that will allow them to transform themselves and their team. 

For example, we deliver masterclasses to cohorts of up to 30 people, transferring knowledge around topics such as developing inclusive leadership. Our masterclasses bring important topics to life and enable organizations to flourish. 

5. Regularly evaluate manager performance

Establish accountability by implementing a formal plan to measure the outcome of your investment in your inclusive leadership development. 

That could be through:

6. Frame an action plan around inclusive leadership traits

Encourage managers to create an action plan around the inclusive leadership traits they need to develop and ask them to make commitments to improving their inclusivity. 

For example:

  • They could develop an awareness of their biases by taking Harvard’s implicit association test
  • They could show commitment to their D&I efforts by setting targets and making themselves accountable. 
  • They might model curiosity by intentionally seeking diversity in their professional network. 
  • They could call out bias when they see it, admit mistakes and acknowledge they don’t have all the answers. 
  • They could encourage collaboration by holding inclusive meetings. 

7. Enable inclusive meetings

Managers play a large role in making meetings more inclusive. We’ve all been in meetings where some of the participants said nothing, while a few dominated. 

Encourage managers to address the diversity in the room, to speak out against groupthink and question the status quo. Have them commit to harness the valuable insights of diverse participants in meetings by making sure that all meetings are inclusive and all participants feel comfortable enough to speak up. 

How can leaders be more inclusive in meetings? Ask them to:

  • Be aware of who is likely to feel excluded
  • Choose their words carefully
  • Develop self awareness and reflect on how their own experiences have shaped their world view
  • Encourage participants to challenge their ideas
  • Admit they don’t know the answers
  • Assign a moderator in each meeting to watch out for interruptions and invite all participants to join in the discussion
  • Give all team members time to prepare their thoughts and write down ideas at the beginning of the meeting, or contribute to a digital agenda ahead of a meeting, as this is a way to ensure that everyone has a voice and allows team members to address things that they may otherwise not

How Saberr can help you develop inclusive leadership

At Saberr, we can work with you to design bespoke leadership programs, focused on helping your managers—old and new—develop the skills and knowledge they need to become inclusive, and ultimately successful leaders. 

By combining experiential coaching with digital, our programs not only transfer knowledge and change mindsets, but they also ensure that learning is being embedded in the manager's daily interactions with their team members. 

While you can learn more about our leadership programs here, if you have any specific questions or would like to book in for a discovery call, you can schedule a time here.

Leadership development programs

Want to learn more about the Saberr platform?

Book a demo
Two male team members having a meeting