Inclusive leadership: how inclusive are you?

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Kiddy & Partners

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Our previous two articles in this series were about setting the tone. Providing the backdrop. We explained why inclusive leadership behaviours are integral to great leadership right now and in the future, and we brought these behaviours to life. In this article we are moving on and addressing two key questions:

  1. How can you gain a temperature check on how inclusive your leaders are and where/how they need to develop?
  2. How can you ensure the way you are assessing leaders is inclusive?

Assessing inclusive leadership behaviours

Here at Kiddy, we have developed assessment solutions which aim to understand how inclusive leaders are in their leadership style and provide them with honest, constructive feedback to enable them to develop in this area.

Due to inclusive leadership being a nuanced, interpersonal set of behaviours, there are two key principles that define our approach:

  • As the crux of inclusive leadership is how leaders generate feelings of belonging, inclusion and psychological safety in others it is important to gather the perspectives of these ‘others’ in this assessment. Relying solely on interview or other self-report methods is not sufficient; partly because it doesn’t include that outside perspective and partly because, frankly, individuals aren’t very good at judging how they make others feel.
  • Inclusive leadership has internal, self-management aspects and external, interpersonal aspects it is important to include an assessment that balances and taps into both.

As a result, we take a holistic and multi-method approach to assessing inclusive leadership, employing:

  1. LIVE 360: Interviewing individuals to gather feedback regarding the participant’s inclusive leadership behaviour, gathering real life examples of how the participant interacts in their natural working environment. Interviewees should:

    A. Work closely enough with the participant to be able to provide feedback on their behaviour;
    B. Be sufficiently different to (less powerful than) the participant so as not to be part of their ‘in-group’
    C. Be more junior than the participant.

    The live element enables psychologist assessors to contract upfront and create a safe space within which individuals feel comfortable providing the feedback and are entirely aware of how it will be used.
  2. Interview: In-depth interview with the participant to gather insight into the internal and introspective aspects of inclusive leadership; e.g. their awareness of and how they challenge their biases, their comfort in challenging the status quo, and their desire and commitment to learning and developing in this area. 
  3. Simulation: We independently observe participants’ behaviour through a simulated exercise to provide an objective assessment of how an individual intuitively responds to differences in power dynamics and interacts inclusively with others.

Kiddy assessors are psychologists with expertise in assessment. We consolidate insight from these data to provide a rounded view and feedback for the individual; we hold a mirror up and provide a safe space to explore their feedback and help illuminate the way forward. This high-touch approach involves feedback sessions where key messages are imparted around the need to continuously challenge oneself in being more inclusive and understanding the perspective of others. It shifts the responsibility for acting inclusively onto the leaders themselves and makes it personal and clear to them what they need to do. 

Ensuring assessments are undertaken in an inclusive way 

Not only is it important to assess your leaders with the aim of helping them to be more inclusive, but it’s also HR’s responsibility to ensure that the processes used for selection, promotion and potential identification (i.e. assessment processes) are inclusive. By that we mean they are robust, objective, reduce bias and help to level the playing field. 

Key questions all HR practitioners should be asking are: 

  1. Are we sure that our selection and promotion practices aren’t perpetuating inequalities?  
  2. What changes do we need to make to ensure our selection and promotion practices promote diversity, inclusion and equality?

Kiddy’s Director of Research & Impact has previously written about the evidence regarding how cognitive biases in recruitment, selection, and promotion can lead to subconscious discrimination. But in addition to this, there’s another very fundamental flaw that often gets overlooked in practice when it comes to making key personnel decisions: Often, these decisions are made on the basis of evidence from the past – CVs, references, even competency-based interviews which ask participants to recall examples from their previous experience.  If you acknowledge that inequality still exists, you recognise that the past is likely to have provided fewer opportunities for individuals in minority groups to show what they’re really capable of. At once, it becomes clear how selecting on this basis puts you at risk of perpetuating inequalities.

How do we address this?

There are several key shifts that need to be made to break this cycle.

  1. Shift the criteria:

    Selection and promotion decisions need to shift from an emphasis on what somebody has achieved in the past to what they’re capable of in future. In other words, we need to shift more of an emphasis onto potential – to assessing the key ingredients for success. 
  2. Change your assessment methods:

    In practice, judgements of an individual’s potential or suitability for other jobs are often questionable. They are often conflated with assessments of current or past performance. This is partly intentional because it’s assumed that great performance in a current role will automatically lead to success in a future role. And a lot of academic research has supported that assumption. 

    It’s also partly unintentional, as there is an over reliance on line managers to make this assessment. Naturally, managers find it extremely difficult to distinguish between performance in current role and potential for a different one. 

    However, current performance doesn’t necessarily predict success in future roles, particularly when the new role involves a step-change, for instance from a technical or functional specialist to a managerial or leadership role.  As a result, the high potential pool ends up comprising of current high performers, possibly overlooking those with skills to lead your business in the future but who aren’t flourishing in their current role or context. 

    But the argument for fairer, more inclusive methods of assessment shouldn’t just relate to your ‘HiPo pool’, it should relate to all assessment processes and therefore the potential every individual has to demonstrate their capability.

    To avoid perpetuating past inequalities and to reduce bias, selection and promotion decisions should be based on an independent assessment of an individual’s capability and, most importantly, their potential. Business Psychologists’ training in assessment methods is rigorous in relation to reducing bias, mitigating adverse impact – the negative impact of employment (and promotion) practices that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on a protected group - and enhancing reliability and validity.  

    Kiddy’s Business Psychologists use of a range of assessment methods helps to overcome this, and critically, when assessing potential, use of business simulations. Benchmarked simulations create a learning and assessment environment that replicates the leadership challenges that individuals are likely to experience in future, in your business.  They allow you to create the challenges of a future role, and in doing so, provide an opportunity for an individual to demonstrate their suitability and potential without them needing to provide you with an example of where they’ve shown it in the past. It provides you with an indication of an individual’s future capacity, reducing conflation with current job performance. 

Shifting leaders and shifting process…

If we’re to break the cycle of inequality and lack of opportunity as a result of implicit bias, and improve employee cohesion, inclusion and engagement, organisations must support their leaders to develop their inclusive leadership behaviours and shift towards objective, data-driven assessment processes that are designed to assess the cognitive, behavioural, and social qualities identified as determinants of future success in your business.  

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