From Diversity to Inclusion: The Transformative Power of Inclusive Leadership




HR leaders seeking to leverage diversity and inclusion for strategic advantage must read this article. Highlighting Frank Kellenberg’s insights on inclusive leadership at Sandoz, it presents actionable strategies for creating a culture where every employee feels valued.

In today’s fast-changing business world, diversity and inclusion (D&I) have become more than just popular terms; they’re now key parts of what makes a company successful. It’s clear that having a variety of perspectives and making sure everyone feels included isn’t just nice to have—it’s essential. This shift shows that businesses understand the benefits of bringing different voices into the conversation, which can lead to better ideas, solutions, and ways to stay ahead in the competitive global market. Amidst this shift, Frank Kellenberg, VP Global Head of Culture and Inclusion at Sandoz, sheds light on the significance of these concepts, especially emphasizing the game-changing role of inclusive leadership in fostering a culture where every individual feels valued and empowered.

The Imperative of D&I in Today’s World

At the core of this new way of thinking is a deep realization that diversity is about a lot more than just what we can see, like someone’s race or gender. It’s really about appreciating a wide range of differences among people—things like where they come from, how old they are, their cultural backgrounds, and the unique ways they see the world. Frank Kellenberg, a leader in this field, argues that welcoming and valuing these differences isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also a smart move for any business looking to succeed. There’s a lot of research backing up the idea that teams with a mix of people from different backgrounds tend to come up with more creative ideas and solve problems more effectively. As Adam Grant, Wharton’s top-rated professor and author points out: “Diverse groups are more creative, and it’s not just because they access a wider range of ideas (…) stop hiring on cultural fit. That’s a great way to breed groupthink. Emphasizing cultural fit leads you to bring in a bunch of people who think in similar ways to your existing employees”. When you bring together diverse perspectives, you’re more likely to come up with truly innovative solutions that can help a company stand out from the competition. This kind of diversity in thought and experience is what sparks new ideas, drives progress, and helps businesses navigate through challenging and rapidly changing markets. By embracing diversity, organizations not only foster a more inclusive and dynamic work environment but also equip themselves with the tools needed to thrive in today’s global economy.

The Critical Role of Inclusive Leadership

Shifting from a general view of diversity and inclusion (D&I), Frank Kellenberg zooms in on a crucial element for fostering a culture where everyone feels welcome and valued – and that’s inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders stand out because they truly appreciate and seek out the varied ideas and experiences of every team member. It’s not only about recognizing that people are different but about actively supporting and celebrating these differences. They create spaces where people, no matter their background, feel safe and encouraged to voice their thoughts and suggestions.

Inclusive leadership does more than just make people feel good.. “Inclusive leadership is a critical capability to leverage diverse thinking in a workforce with increasingly diverse markets, customers, and talent.” – pointed out by Juliet Bourke, professor of practice in the School of Management and Governance, UNSW Business School, UNSW in her HBR Article.

Research proves, that inclusive leadership leads to a work environment bursting with creativity and cooperation. When everyone feels they can contribute, you get a mix of ideas that can spark innovation and solve problems in new ways. It also means that projects can benefit from a wide range of perspectives, leading to better outcomes. Moreover, this inclusive atmosphere makes people want to stay with the company, reducing turnover and building a strong, committed team. In simple terms, inclusive leadership isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have for any organization looking to thrive in today’s diverse world.

The Impact of Inclusive Leadership on Organizational Success

The positive effects of inclusive leadership ripple out far beyond just the team it directly touches. Frank Kellenberg dives deep into how this type of leadership can really boost how engaged and productive employees are at work. When people feel that their leaders truly back them up and appreciate their contributions, they’re not just a little happier at their jobs—they’re significantly more satisfied and committed to sticking around. This is also backed by hard evidence. “We find that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included. And this really matters because the more people feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate — all of which ultimately lifts organizational performance” – found by Juliet Bourke. This means the company sees fewer people leaving, which is great because it’s costly and time-consuming to keep hiring and training new staff. A workplace where everyone feels like they belong and are part of the team tends to be more stable and full of energy.

But there’s more to it than just keeping employees happy and sticking around. Kellenberg points out that when leaders encourage everyone to be themselves—really themselves—something amazing happens. People start to share their unique ideas and perspectives without holding back, fueling creativity and innovation. This isn’t just good for the vibes in the office; it’s a powerful driver for the company’s success. Innovative companies are the ones that come up with new products, improve their services, and find smarter ways to work. They’re the ones that stand out and lead the way in their industries.

So, inclusive leadership isn’t just a nice principle to talk about; it’s a practical way to make the workplace better for everyone and drive the company forward. It turns out that when leaders focus on making sure every single person feels valued and part of the team, everyone wins—the employees, the leaders, and the entire organization.

Building Trust and Psychological Safety

One of the main benefits of having inclusive leaders, as highlighted by Kellenberg, is how they help teams feel safe and trusted. These leaders work hard to make sure everyone can speak up and share their thoughts freely, which is really important for working together and solving problems. By encouraging open talks and genuine feedback, they lay down the groundwork needed for everyone to contribute their best ideas.

But it’s more than just making teams work better together. This feeling of being valued and trusted goes a long way in making everyone feel like they belong. When people feel safe to be themselves and know their ideas are welcome, they’re more likely to stick around and put in their best effort. This not only improves how well a team performs but also sends a strong message across the whole company: everyone’s input is valued here. As Amy Edmondson points out in this research, “A team leader’s behavior is particularly salient; team members are likely to attend to each other’s actions and responses but to be particularly aware of the behavior of the leader (Tyler and Lind, 1992). If the leader is supportive, coaching-oriented, and has non-defensive responses to questions and challenges, members are likely to conclude that the team constitutes a safe environment.”

Furthermore, this approach by leaders can lead to a ripple effect. As teams become more open and trusting, these attitudes can spread throughout the organization, making the whole company a better place to work. It’s about building a culture where everyone feels they have a stake in the company’s future and can contribute to its success. Over time, this can transform the entire organization, making it not only more inclusive but also more innovative and adaptable. It shows how powerful inclusive leadership can be, not just for the atmosphere of individual teams but for steering the company towards a more inclusive and successful future.

Implementing Inclusive Leadership Practices

To turn the idea of inclusive leadership into reality, Kellenberg suggests practical steps leaders can take. He emphasizes the importance of not just listening to, but really valuing different viewpoints. This means making sure everyone, no matter their background, has the same chances to grow and succeed in the company. It’s about creating rules and an environment that show everyone they’re included and valued.

Kellenberg also talks about the need for leaders to be aware of their unconscious biases—those automatic thoughts and feelings we all have about other people that can influence our decisions without us even realizing it. He believes it’s crucial for leaders to understand and work on these biases. This isn’t just about making individual teams feel more united; it’s about steering the whole organization toward a more welcoming and inclusive future.

In addition, leaders are asked to go a step further by creating spaces where employees feel safe to express their ideas and concerns. This involves setting up regular check-ins and feedback sessions where everyone’s voice can be heard. Leaders should also champion diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as mentoring programs or diversity training sessions, to educate and encourage their teams to embrace differences.

Moreover, Kellenberg highlights the importance of visibility and accountability. Leaders should not only advocate for diversity and inclusion but also be examples of these values in action. This might include sharing their own experiences with diversity, supporting diverse talent in visible ways, and holding themselves and others accountable for fostering an inclusive environment.

All these efforts contribute to a culture where diversity is celebrated, and inclusion is the norm, paving the way for a more innovative, resilient, and successful organization.

Connecting DEI to Strategy and Business Outcomes

Understanding and putting diversity and inclusion (D&I) into action goes way beyond just making the office a nicer place to work. It’s deeply connected to how well a company does in the market and its overall success. When you have a team that includes all kinds of different people, with varied backgrounds and ideas, it’s like adding a secret sauce that makes your company more creative and quick to come up with new solutions. A diverese team is also better at handling changes because they’re used to looking at things from many angles.

Moreover, our world is incredibly diverse, and so are the people who buy products or use services. A diverse and inclusive company understands this better. They can create products or offer services that appeal to a wider range of people because they have a team that reflects that variety. Imagine trying to sell something to someone in another country without understanding their culture or needs. A diverse team is more likely to get it right.

So, when a company really embraces D&I, it’s not just ticking a box for the sake of looking good. It’s making a smart move that’s likely to lead to more innovation, better adaptability in the face of change, and a closer connection to customers all around the world. This approach can open doors to new markets and opportunities that might have been overlooked otherwise. Companies that get this right often find they have a competitive edge—they can move faster, see further, and adapt quicker than those that don’t prioritize diversity and inclusion.

Additionally, D&I initiatives help attract and retain top talent. Today’s workforce values inclusivity and wants to work in environments where they can be themselves and feel appreciated for their unique contributions. This means companies focused on D&I are more likely to attract a wider pool of candidates, including some of the best and brightest who are looking for an inclusive workplace culture.

In essence, embedding D&I into the core strategy of a company isn’t just about social responsibility—it’s a smart business move. It leads to a more engaged workforce, fosters innovation, and creates a stronger connection with a diverse customer base, all of which are critical components for staying competitive in today’s global marketplace.

For CHROs, prioritizing D&I is both a strategic imperative and a moral duty. In an era where talent acquisition and retention are paramount, organizations that fail to embrace D&I will find themselves at a significant disadvantage. CHROs play a crucial role in leading the charge, ensuring that D&I principles are not only espoused but deeply embedded in every facet of the organization’s operations and culture.

In conclusion, the insights shared by Frank Kellenberg underscore the transformative power of inclusive leadership in harnessing the benefits of diversity and inclusion. It’s a clear call to action for organizations and leaders worldwide to rethink their approaches to leadership and culture. For CHROs, the message is unequivocal: embedding D&I into the strategic fabric of the organization is not just beneficial but essential for business success. By prioritizing inclusive leadership, companies can unlock the full potential of their workforce, foster innovation, and drive sustainable growth in the ever-evolving global marketplace.

Meet Frank Kellenberg at The HR Congress WorldSummit in Porto, where he shall take the stage on May 14, with the following presentation: The Power of Discomfort: Transforming Challenges into Collective Growth
Overview of his session: At Sandoz, we believe great leadership is more than just celebrating diversity. It is also about confronting and learning from uncomfortable truths about inequality and exclusion. By addressing these issues head-on, we not only foster genuine connections and understanding, but also transform challenges into collective growth.

Written by: Mihaly Nagy

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