Micro-behaviours can make you a more inclusive leader

05 January 2018

In the run-up to the launch of our Inclusive Culture Pledge, I’ve been speaking to employees in a range of business environments about how inclusive their leaders are. What examples of inclusive behaviour have stood out to them? What are their senior people saying – and doing – that signals how they respect and welcome the contribution from any and every individual?

 

Promoting inclusive behaviour in the workplace starts at the micro level

When it comes to micro-behaviours, you may already have heard of the term micro-aggressions or micro-inequities. Coined by psychologist Dr Mary Rowe in the early 1970s, it refers to the ways individuals may be singled out, overlooked or ignored based on an unchangeable characteristic, such as their race or gender.

In the workplace, these often unconscious micro-behaviours might be as simple as:

  • A quick glance at the clock during an interview
  • Forgetting a more junior member of staff’s name
  • Giving an employee a nickname he or she might not feel comfortable with.

Even in a short one-to-one meeting, we might exchange up to 50 micro-messages with the other person. Each one sends a signal that may affirm or undermine the person on the receiving end.

 

Micro-Aggressions in the Workplace

 

Micro-aggressions and the impact of unconscious bias at work

Our own work in addressing unconscious bias tells us that if the person we’re interacting with is like us, we are more inclined to send affirmative micro-messages their way. If they are different to us, we are much more likely to start dishing out micro-aggressions, whether we mean to or not.

Incidentally, Mary Rowe’s work on micro-inequities led to her own workplace, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), becoming one of America’s first company policies on harassment.

In speaking to people about how leaders go about modelling inclusive micro-behaviours, a clear pattern emerged. The best leaders have consciously developed inclusive behaviours and habits which enable them to empower individuals and drive team performance, regardless of who those individuals or teams might be.

 

3 examples of inclusive leadership in action

Take a look at the micro-behaviours of the three inclusive leaders below, and you’ll see how simple and effective inclusive leadership really is. 

Leader 1: Think through who gets the high visibility opportunities
“My sales director recently asked a very junior member of staff to present to the board. It had never happened before, but she had led the whole project. We all knew our boss was saying that she [the junior member of staff] was the most competent to present the results.” 

Leader 2: Be even-handed with your time, give everyone in the team a platform, and manage your own limitations
“Our director spends 5-10 minutes per week with everyone in his department, then writes a weekly blog on the team. He’s a strong introvert and so this is his way of connecting with everyone without exception and highlighting people’s successes.”

Leader 3: Demonstrate the benefits of everyone contributing
“I was in a collaborative session recently where someone shared a new idea. The leader in the room was obviously excited about the learning and thanked them for sharing. They showed they were listening by asking questions to help their understanding on how it might add to their current thinking.”

 

It’s not too late to sign up to our Inclusive Culture Pledge, giving you access to resources throughout the year that will support you in building a more inclusive workplace. It’s totally free to sign up, too.