ArticleApril 25, 2024by included

Being an Inclusive Leader

Diversity and inclusion can be another tool in your toolbox, and it can gradually become a natural habit by embedding it into your leadership practice. When we are able to do this as leaders, we enable those around us to be more open and honest. This in turn makes it easier to bring all aspects of our perspective to work, and to leverage the power of diversity in our organisations.

Recently, Michelle has attended several speaker events around inclusive leadership and what follows are some of our key thoughts on the topic.

How do you define inclusive leadership? What are some key characteristics or behaviours of an inclusive leader?

Inclusive leadership has never been more important. As our world, and our workplaces, become ever more diverse and polarised, we need leaders to bring us together to get work done. So many of the current challenges organisations face won’t be solved through management alone.

Every day, clients ask us what words and language they should use. They ask us how to manage a multi-generational workforce. They ask us how to deal with conflict. They ask us what are reasonable adaptations to ‘accommodate’ differences.

These are not straightforward management operational asks, they are questions that require leadership to answer them.

Inclusive leadership is convening a group of often very different people towards a common goal, usually by adapting to others, rather than expecting them to adapt to you. The capacity to manage and lead a heterogeneous group of people efficiently, while respecting their uniqueness in an empathetic, bias-free way.

At Included, we have reviewed decades of academic work on leadership and our own practice over the last decade and distilled a model based on our theory of change and how people learn leadership.

Understand, Lead and Deliver
  • Understand is about leaders creating their own personal why? This is critical to leaders recognising that true inclusion stems from personal understanding of DEI and self-awareness, the ability to empathise with others and seeking out diversity of thought.
  • Lead is about leaders taking personal responsibility for their behaviours and understanding their own impact. Core skill here is building trust – consistency across different aspects of work, transparency in decision-making.
  • Deliver is about taking concrete action to effect sustainable change. Targeted interventions to change the specific aspects of an organisation that needs focus and re-aligning. Core skill of cultivating innovation – cultural and emotional intelligence, inspiring others to thrive.
How does language contribute to inclusivity, and what are ways to use inclusive language at work?

Gareth Southgate Englands football manager, post the racist slurs shared towards Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho said:

“I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold… I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice.”

Inclusive leadership in business is about so much more than simply leaving the overburdened Head of DEI, HRD, or someone else to do the work. It’s about being visible and taking accountability for measurable progress.


  • Critical thinking requires us to disagree. It’s the facilitation of that disagreement, in a respectful, civil, manner that is the practice of good leadership. Safe spaces need to be productive spaces. Gracious spaces, if you will, allow for respectful disagreement, which is core to furthering learning. Psychological safety is critical for people to bring their talents to the table, but this is not to be confused with so called, cancel culture, where people with different views are not allowed to speak. We need to be empathetic, with people who get language wrong, rather than castigate them.
  • Focus on the goal: Leaders need to avoid backlash, so they need to walk the line in order to bring the group with them. It’s often helpful to focus on the goal. If the goal is greater inclusion, we need to candidly challenge ourselves and each other. We do want to turn fear into allyship, to not stop clumsy language getting in the way of education and behavioural change. Above all else, we want to avoid shutting down conversation and avoiding the work, at a time when we have much to do.
  • Accessibility and different methods of communications: from live translation through to sign language. For example, Monzo, a FinTech challenger bank, recently they’ve talked about the developments in the accessibility of their product ensuring those with needs, like the ability to use sign language when signing up to use the product.
  • Language is constantly evolving, and tools that originally assessed gender bias in communications, and subsequent algorithms, were built in the early 1960s/70s, with little changes adapting to the present day, yet are still used in tooling today.
How can intentional inclusion contribute to innovation and competitiveness within industries?

AstraZeneca is a prime example in the healthcare industry. Inclusion has become embedded in the organisation and intrinsically linked to business success and decision-making. This shapes AstraZeneca’s approach to culture, strategy, and corporate social responsibility. Included interviewed Rebekah Martin, SVP Reward and Inclusion at AstraZeneca – the company grew enormously as a result of its focus on D&I and its efforts to tangibly embed this thinking into how it operates.

Its size, scale, and reach among patients all grew as a result. As a result of these changes, AstraZeneca was more able to adjust rapidly to the working situations forced by the COVID-19 pandemic and, most significantly, was able to make a monumental difference to the world by developing a COVID-19 vaccination.

AstraZeneca also used an equity lens to define its delivery of healthcare. This helped it to mobilise its efforts to reach low and middle-income countries at speed and at scale with its vaccine. Without AstraZeneca’s focus on equity, these patients would not have received this vaccine.

When thinking of product design, it was only in the 1970’s that women’s trainers were released in the market with ‘shrink it and pink it’. Systems and processes surrounding product development have changed exponentially in the last 20 years or so. Brands are now developing, seeking feedback on, and testing these products on as many women as men.

They employ interventions to examine women’s feet and the way in which women move their bodies in detail. They continue to innovate, for example using materials that adapt to a woman’s body, improving comfort and responsiveness.

The result? Women’s running has never been more popular, the female market is more profitable than ever, creativity and innovation has snowballed, and women continue to break down barriers and experience unmitigated success as runners.

There are many more examples from competitiveness of talent attraction and retention in the market; improving community impact and more, and for more insights into inclusive leadership, or more examples of impact, please reach out for a discussion, have a look at our thinking on our website, or grab a copy of our latest book and learn more about the competitiveness of talent attraction and retention in the market, improving community impact and more.

Please reach out to us anytime to have a conversation with one of our team to discuss our making your organisation more diverse and more inclusive.