When seemingly small things mean so much: inclusive leadership actions

Many of us have probably experienced a thoughtless action at work such as not being introduced in a meeting, being left off an email distribution list, or others taking credit for our work.

By itself, this might seem inconsequential.

But when this happens consistently over time - like a leaky tap - it can leave those on the receiving end feeling isolated and excluded.

It was Professor Mary Rowe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who coined the term ‘micro-inequities’ in the 1970s to describe small and often unintentional unfairnesses toward those who are perceived as different.

Micro-inequities are often the result of unconscious bias or not understanding cultural differences. They're subtle but erode confidence, explains Australian scientist Dr Jill Rathborne on micro-inequities in the male-dominated world of science for example. 

We all need to be aware, consciously, of these on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

The good news is that there are many relatively simple things we can do to reduce unconscious bias and micro-inequities. Mary Rowe called these ‘micro-affirmations’: ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’.

It might seem obvious, but the impact of these inclusive actions on individuals and team cultures in our workplaces can be very significant. They help everyone feel a greater sense of belonging and reduce unconscious bias.

We all need to be aware, consciously, of micro-inequities on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

Here's ten inclusive actions (drawing on research and discussions in our leadership workshops) that can make a positive difference to everyday interactions, meetings, and decision-making.

Inclusive interactions

1.    Acknowledge people when you pass them in the office, especially those not part of your ‘in-group’.

2.    Ask for permission before calling someone by a nickname (and think about who has a nickname and who doesn’t).

3.    Ask for the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar name – make an effort to get it right.

4.    Be mindful that small talk at the start of a meeting may leave some feeling excluded - make an effort to invite everyone into the conversation.

Inclusive meetings

5.    Introduce all people in a meeting with equal level of acknowledgement.

6.    In your team meetings, appoint a devil’s advocate (and make sure to rotate this role) to reduce groupthink.

7.    Be especially attentive to virtual team members who dial into meetings.

8.    Consider when and where a meeting should be held and who is invited, to maximise diversity of thought and perspective.

Inclusive decision-making

9.    Next time you’re making a key decision, actively seek out multiple perspectives (especially those different to your own) to avoid confirmation and sunflower bias.

10.    Use different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea - some team members will be more comfortable providing a follow up email or direct phone call rather than speaking out in a team meeting.

These tips, and many others, are explored in our Inclusive Leadership: Challenging Unconscious Bias workshop for leaders and employees. We'd love to share more with you - please contact us for a chat.

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