Inclusive leadership starts with self-leadership

In my very first post on The Diversity Dividend, I talked about how critical it is to be aware that diversity is personal, to understand that it is about each of us and who we are, as well as being about others. What I didn’t talk about there was that how we act on this knowledge is also vital. For just as we can recognize the diversity within our families, teams and classrooms without taking steps to build an inclusive environment that allows everyone present to thrive, we can also see diversity in ourselves without embracing or validating it.

In part this is because awareness is often nothing more than registering that something is present. This noticing can be relatively free from judgment. For example, compare “I smell something” — awareness — with “Mmm, what is that delicious aroma?” or “Eew, what stinks?” — evaluation. Similarly, when we become aware of multiple aspects of our identities, we likely also decide which identities make us proud, “Mmm,” and which we are more likely be reticent about sharing with others, “Eew.” Therefore, although we most often talk about diversity awareness in terms of its positive impact, noticing some characteristic or feature about ourselves (or others) does not commit us to affirming or celebrating it or to contemplating how we can leverage it to produce more effective performance. To get there, we need to think in terms of inclusion.

So imagine the self as a meeting. The various parts of you show up and the meeting is therefore quite diverse. But is it inclusive? Only if the environment is one where the barriers to contributing are low, encouragement to participate is high and this holds across the board. Further, the meeting of the self needs to be structured such that different approaches are valued rather than stigmatized. In addition, these approaches are supported not to be nice or as a form of tokenism, but rather because they have qualities that all the meeting’s attendees deem valid.

Both diversity and inclusion need to get personal. We need to acknowledge our multi-faceted identities, the “Mmm’s” and the “Eew’s,” the gifts and the challenges. If we find new information threatening, we can endeavor to stay open, curious and appreciative, rather than trying to suppress or reject the knowledge of our personal diversities. We can treat ourselves with compassion, celebrating positive steps and progress made, rather than giving into the pressures of comparison and conformity. Having established an inclusive atmosphere in our internal worlds, this self-leadership skillset can be transferred to understanding and honoring others in our external world. This is the diversity dividend.


Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Inclusive leadership starts with self-leadership

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s