5 Ways to Create a More Diverse, Engaged, and Inclusive Workplace

Subtle practices that will be virtually invisible to most people.

By Marcel Schwantes

The related ideas of diversity, engagement, and inclusivity float around boardrooms and training sessions with such fluffy, ambiguous meanings that the discussion often undermines the goals of caring leaders.

So how do caring leaders cultivate an inclusive workplace, one with high diversity and high engagement? According to Bob DeKoch and Phillip Clampitt, authors of the new book Leading With Care in a Tough World: Beyond Servant Leadership, they start by using subtle practices that will be virtually invisible to most people. 

“We believe that caring leaders embrace Audre Lorde’s sage advice: ‘It’s not our differences that divide us; it’s our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences,'” state the authors. “In order to do that, we need to understand the concepts of engagement and inclusiveness. These are like the heating, plumbing, and electrical systems found in a well-functioning home–they go unnoticed but are immensely important.”

1. Discover the differences that might make a difference

The authors emphasize that caring leaders think broadly about the issue of diversity. For example, people in the workplace have different political beliefs, and those might be influential in crafting certain policies. Yet, this is probably a meaningless difference when crafting a remote work policy. If you’re always selecting the same difference, or lens, to view all issues (like political beliefs), then you really are not finding the difference that makes a difference. To make a real difference instead, the authors suggest focusing on how different generations respond to remote work.

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2. Select a diverse array of team members

According to the authors, caring leaders recognize that they cannot make progress without benefiting from diverse viewpoints. They look to bring together the right combination of people with differing talents, skills, and viewpoints.

Sometimes caring leaders recognize that the team needs to enlarge the circle of engagement by adding new people with different experiences, sensibilities, and perspectives. “Some teams get stuck in a rut and they just need new blood to move on. Such skills not only help assimilate new people; they also add new perspectives, ideas, and energy,” share the authors.

3. Look for signs of subgroup tendencies in your teams

Team members align with one another for any number of reasons. Caring leaders, the authors write, pay particular attention to subgroup tendencies that will hinder collaborative progress on key issues. Subgroups of team members often emerge that may be difficult to detect. DeKoch and Clampitt highlight some possible signs:

  • People who always sit together and routinely joke about some insider incident that’s not shared by others.
  • Clusters of people who tend to view complex issues from one perspective instead of examining issues from multiple viewpoints.
  • Frequent requests for special privileges from a particular subset of people.

Of course, identifying subgroups does not necessarily signal a tribal mentality. As long as these subgroups unite to win the game, then it doesn’t really matter. Yet, when subgroups either openly or subtly conflict in ways that hinder progress, caring leaders act.

4. Model collaborative conversational rules and applaud those who adopt them

Many people simply don’t know how to engage in collaborative discussions focused on others. It’s not enough to implore these folks to “collaborate more” or “communicate better.” Caring leaders encourage others to adopt collaborative conversational rules. For example, if someone brings up a troubling event, probe for more details rather than immediately offering advice. The probing shows respect for the other person and might just provide the relevant details for more candid, caring, and valuable advice. If you disagree with someone, paraphrase their position before offering your own. This demonstrates a degree of understanding.  

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5. Seek the proper balance between harmony and thoughtful debate

We’ve all been to meetings where certain people do not freely offer their opinions or insights. If someone remains silent, then the caring leader privately asks for their input depending upon the individual’s desires. Caring leaders are masters at orchestrating this balance of debate and relational communications.

“Caring leaders recognize the things that might separate people but connect them with the things that can unite,” DeKoch and Clampitt say. Reconciling the tension between things that might separate or unite requires special leadership insight, creativity, and persistence.

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