Guest Article: How to be an Inclusive Leader?

By Guest Writer: Jennifer V. Miller

Jennifer V. Miller researches and writes about the evolving role of leadership in the workplace. Read more articles at her award-winning blog The People Equation and sign up for her newsletter to receive bonus subscriber-only content and the latest tips to become an inspiring, effective leader.

Are you on the “home team” at work? Otherwise known as the “traditional majority culture,”  author Laura Kriska uses the “home team advantage” analogy for the invisible edge people on the “home team” possess. Because the rules for belonging are unwritten (and nobody’s wearing a uniform), people on the team are unaware of the ways in which they’re excluding others. Want to foster a true culture of diversity? To be an inclusive leader, it’s up to you to expand the home team roster. 

Kriska, a cross-cultural consultant and author of The Business of We: The Proven Three-Step Process for Closing the Gap Between Us and Them in Your Workplace defines the home team as the “homogeneous group in power . . .[their] norms of communication and behavior become the standard by which all people in the organization are measured.” Kriska writes that this dynamic, if not addressed, can create an “Us versus Them” vibe in the workplace, with unintentional in-groups and out-groups. “Until those on the home team engage in self-reflections and understand their role in any specific ‘Us versus Them’ gaps,” she writes, “diversity will be viewed as a problem to be solved rather than a strength to be leveraged toward successful outcomes.”

Kriska, who was born in Tokyo and raised in the American Midwest, offers important “big picture” observations about creating an inclusive culture in her book. For an excerpt, read this piece from the CEO Porchlight blog on building internal infrastructure to end Us versus Them thinking. Important as the systemic changes are for a truly inclusive workplace, I wanted to know about the daily “people equation” elements of inclusion. So I reached out to Laura Kriska to learn more.

In an email interview with Kriska, I asked about leaders’ role in making people feel they’re part of the home team. She told me that, post-pandemic, as white collar employees return to in-person work after many months of working from home, leaders have a rare opportunity to establish new norms of inclusion. “Some of these colleagues have never met in person,” she noted. “It is mission critical that leaders take action on modeling inclusive behavior by first measuring their own level of interaction with relevant ‘them’ cultural groups. A cultural group can be as big as an entire country or as small as a single person,” Kriska explained. When viewed through the lens of one person potentially being their own “cultural group,” leaders have enormous opportunities to create inclusiveness and belonging. 

And that’s what I appreciated about Kriska’s book. It tackles the systemic issues that often lead to “othering” in the workplace. And, she also offers practical advice for one-to-one or one-to-group settings that leaders often find themselves in. For example, many of the suggestions she offers in her book are simple “tweaks” of language and actions. 

A few snippets for your consideration:

  • Pay attention to the way people joke with one another; are certain “innocuous” statements like “You kids can’t even eat lunch without taking a picture of it” tossed about?
  • When team members talk in a group; is everyone included in the conversation? Or does one topic (sports, parenting, socializing outside of work) tend to dominate?
  • Help people build bridges around multiple “identities” – such as occupations, life experiences and skills rather than age and race
  • If you are part of the “home team”, reach out to people who are part of different “teams” to ask—how may I do a better job of including a variety of voices?

As Kriska writes in The Business of We, “building bridges across cultural differences in the workplace requires emotional bravery from leaders—the kind that can seem scary and overwhelming to otherwise confident and skillful people.” Yet, it can be done. The first step is simply paying attention. And then having the courage to speak up for those who have not yet been actively recruited (metaphorically speaking) onto the home team. When you add to your roster in this way, you’ll be seen as an inclusive leader. And that’s a home team advantage worthy of the effort.

(Reprinted with permission)

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