How To Be An Inclusive Leader Through a Crisis

How To Be An Inclusive Leader Through a Crisis – An Abridged Version for IPANZ Members

Leaders are under extraordinary pressure right now. They are expected to make decisions quickly with often incomplete and rapidly evolving information. Research tells us that even the most intentional and well-meaning leaders can fall into patterns of bias and exclusion —  the pressures of working in crisis mode mean we often default to heuristics and gut instincts, rather than making deliberate and goal-oriented decisions.

Yet now, more than ever leaders must prioritise inclusion. To be truly innovative, organisations need input from all employees, a diversity of ideas and perspectives is critical for problem solving and realising development opportunities.

Here are the author’s specific strategies for being an inclusive leader through this crisis:

  1. Ensure all employees have equal access to technology for remote work - access to technology can make or break an employee’s productivity and connectivity to others. Leaders need to ask themselves ‘do people have the right technology or access to it?’
  2. Make virtual meetings equitable by turning on closed captioning, sending documents and collecting input in advance - Speaking up in a virtual meeting may be even more challenging for some people than doing so during in-person meetings. Sending information in advance helps create opportunities for everyone to prepare and contribute. Closed captioning is especially crucial during webinars or presentations, so that everyone, including those who may have hearing difficulties or spotty WiFi service, can fully participate.
  3. Begin meetings by acknowledging everyone in the room - Make it a point to acknowledge the unprecedented situation we’re all in before you dive into agenda items. Leaders can set the tone by sharing their own challenges or vulnerabilities. Your team will appreciate it if you say, “This is hard.” In smaller meetings, check in individually with each person on how they’re doing.
  4. Understand how gender bias may show up - During the pandemic, women will often be bearing the disproportionate burden of responsibility for child, family, home, and healthcare-giving. Show empathy for working parents by checking in with them, offering extra support or pushing back deadlines, and most of all, by showing grace when children of any employees interrupt video meetings.
  5. Check in with employees who may be disproportionately impacted by this crisis - Unfortunately, there’s an uptick of racism against Asians globally. Ensure that you connect with employees who might be affected, while reminding all employees that you take discrimination at work seriously. This is also a significantly more challenging time for older and/or immuno-compromised employees, people who have at-risk family members, and employees with physical or mental health issues. Proactively sharing resources on health and mental health can help here.
  6. Most importantly, show compassion- This crisis is effecting everyone differently - give employees time off if they’re sick or need to care for a sick person. Liberally push back deadlines as more people adjust to a new normal. And remember, not everyone has the set-up to be equally productive. Common barriers right now include inadequate access to technology, private space, or even the basics such as food or healthcare.

Finally, this crisis provides an opportunity to evaluate the structure of work and how organisational processes could be more inclusive to all employees, but especially those who may be dealing with significantly more challenges.

    This article was written by Ruchika Tulshyan on April 10, 2020 for the Harvard Business Review – you can read the full article here