What Is Inclusive Leadership and What Are Some Top Inclusive Leadership Traits

Harvard Business Review Assessment: How Inclusive Is Your Leadership?

3 min read, Feb 2022

FOFO business leaders not listening

Summary of HBR’s Study and Review by Salwa Rahim-Dillard, PhD

Assessing the inclusive leadership traits and behaviors that are needed to truly become an inclusive leader today should sit at the top of the priority list of every leader across any sized organization.

The organizations thataren’t taking direct action to highlight the importance of developing inclusive leaders who understand how to authentically co-create positive and equitable interactions and processes are missing massive opportunities to build companies that can be more successful than one can imagine.

Salwa Rahim-Dillard, PhD, a diversity, equity, and inclusion scholar and practitioner and is the founder and principal of EquisionConsulting, LLC wrote an assessment for Harvard Business Review following a study of over 100 mid- and senior-level BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) employees across multiple industries.

“Silence is wrong. It’s complicit. So if you want to be wrong, then stay silent.”

Dr. Salwa Rahim-Dillard Forbes magazine, July 2020

Defining Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leaders are individuals who are aware of their own biases and actively seek out and consider different perspectives to inform their decision-making and collaborate more effectively with others. (Center for Creative Leadership)

What Dr. Rahim-Dillard found through her work and assessment is a workplace impression-management strategy that emerged called “mirroring.”

She found that,

“Mirroring is a uniquely intrapersonal process that these employees undergo as they grapple with reflecting, mimicking, constructing, understanding, and portraying “professional” workplace identities that simultaneously signal allegiance to their managers, defy negative stereotypes, respect the ethos of their cultures, and propel their careers.”

This process is a practice where BIPOC employees’ question and evaluate the way that their white manager perceives their values, behaviors, gestures, and appearance. This practice of mirroring is when people seek to belong and be accepted, but at the core it disempowers BIPOC employees and leaders and doesn’t allow them to be truthful nor authentic in the way that they manage, do their work, and work with others.

Did you know that white men represent 85% of Fortune 500 CEOs?

    Source: The Society Pages 

“My work assessing the cultural competence (ability to bridge) of over 100 white leaders (manager level and above) showed that more than 89% severely lacked the ability to bridge and authentically connect with people who were different from them.

These white leaders failed at building trusting relationships with BIPOC employees and were not skilled at leading inclusively, which requires acknowledging and valuing authentic demographic uniqueness and facilitating positive interactions that give equity and a sense of belonging.”

Dr. Rahim-Dillard

When BIPOC employees and leaders can’t be authentic to their own values, feelings of disengagement and exclusion affect their day to day and too often they must face tensions where their values conflict with their perceptions of their boss’ expectations.

“In one case, a Black female senior manager was forced by her white male manager to decrease the performance rating of a woman and increase the performance rating of a white male on her team, despite her disapproval and without clear justification. The Black leader thought it was inequitable favoritism and asserted to me, ‘Going forward, I will give my employees what I believe they deserve and not cave into outside influences.’”

What are traits and behaviours of Inclusive Leaders?

  • Inclusive leaders can reflect on their own behaviors and how they affect others and co-create positive and equitable interactions and decisions
  • These leaders are able to understand how their strengths (high ability) should be augmented, and opportunity gaps (low ability) be narrowed
  • Leaders with low ability to be inclusive should reflect on how their behaviors can negatively impact BIPOC employees and be required to upskill and traits to help them become more inclusive
  • Leaders with average ability to be inclusive should strive to achieve a higher level of competence
  • Those leaders with high ability to be inclusive must accept that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is never-ending and encouraged by their organizations to keep going


“Regardless of demographic background, we all share a basic need to belong, to be accepted, and to avoid rejection.”

This tool provided in this assessment is grounded in years of research and work by Salwa Rahim-Dillard, PhD.

She found that to understand the construct and behaviors of inclusive leadership through hundreds of surveys and interviews and facilitating nearly two dozen Appreciative Inquiry focus groups (with employees at all hierarchical levels), she designed a strength-based approach where employees can identify their behavioral strengths and configure the traits that create a unique roadmap to becoming a more inclusive leader.

Q. Is your organization working on building inclusive leadership across the entire organization and all levels?

Q. If you’re in a leadership role now, how are you assessing your inclusive capabilities and behaviors?

Read the entire Assessment and get Dr Rahim-Dillard’s tool here

*Your personal details are safe with us – we’ll never sell them to other companies for marketing purposes- see our Privacy Policy. From time to time, we’d like to email you eBooks, training or some useful content. By registering you agree to receive this content and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Swae is helping organizations across the world to solve today’s problems and generate tomorrow’s strategy. Our clients are finding that their greatest resource is their people, and Swae is proven to help get the best from the untapped potential within their workforce. We’d love the chance to show you how Swae can ‘pay off’ for you…

Ready to learn how Swae can help your organization?

More to explore…

Pin It on Pinterest