5 Inclusive Leadership Traits That Will Improve Organizational Diversity

5 Inclusive Leadership Traits That Will Improve Organizational Diversity

smiling female manager

Diversity and inclusion are major leadership priorities among the world’s top companies. Apple, for instance, has increased its female new-hire rate from 31 percent to 36 percent since 2014, increased diversity in management ranks, and publishes an annual inclusion and diversity report, earning itself the No. 1 spot on Human Resource Executive’s “Most Admired for HR” list in 2019.

As the workforce becomes more diverse and socially minded — 45 percent of millennials are minorities, and 80 percent of all workers value inclusion when looking for an employer, according to Inc. — adopting inclusive hiring and management strategies has become a growing trend.

Inclusive leadership can enhance a company’s performance by strengthening workers’ confidence in their potential, job security and personal safety. In addition, embracing employees’ unique backgrounds — including beliefs and customs based on race, gender or religion — can help foster a culture of inclusivity.

Cultural Intelligence

An inclusive leader is comfortable in cross-cultural environments, such as a job interview with an immigrant or a meeting with an overseas client. To act with sensitivity in such situations, leaders must have more than basic knowledge of different cultures — they must also understand how traits and stereotypes can influence interactions and how cultural values and beliefs can affect decision making.

Cultural intelligence means valuing cultural differences — including but not limited to beliefs and practices affiliated with race, religion or sexual orientation — which allows for stronger interpersonal connections. These qualities help to promote inclusive leadership and create organizational diversity. For example, a supervisor should be able to hold diversity training without making any employees feel singled out, or hold a brainstorming session where everyone has a sense of belonging and freedom to voice their opinions and contribute.


When a leader asks for open feedback on their performance and allows others to see their weaknesses, workers are more comfortable sharing personal opinions. Humble leaders can admit when they make mistakes and learn from the experience. When a project goes awry, they’re able to accept suggestions for improvement or reassign tasks to direct reports with more appropriate skill sets. Possessing humility also helps leaders practice empathy for employees, as they’re more easily able to take risks and put personal goals aside for the greater good. Hiring a leader who is overly confident and unaware of limitations can be detrimental to an organization’s inclusion efforts.

Acknowledging Bias

Even progressive leaders can have unconscious biases in which they feel more connected to others with similar values or ethnicities, for example. This can lead to premature judgments, favoritism or groupthink, according to Deloitte. Inclusive leaders must understand that employees have different cultural traits that may influence how they approach their work. An inclusive leader accepts that these traits can influence employees’ actions without making assumptions about why an action was taken. 

Business leaders are responsible for establishing and enforcing strong diversity policies to mitigate the impacts of unconscious bias in the workplace. This includes being aware of their own biases and taking steps to counteract the biases. These steps may include overhauling processes or asking other leaders for advice.


Inclusive leaders seek to learn things from employees and co-workers. These leaders want to know more about how different worldviews are formed and enjoy contemplating different perspectives. These leaders inspire others to open their minds to new ideas and empathize with co-workers, as well as to simply learn from peer experiences that may be vastly different from their own. In an interview with Deloitte, Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell, named curiosity as the top CEO trait for success: “With curiosity comes learning and new ideas, and in businesses that are changing very rapidly, if you’re not curious, you’re not learning, and you’re going to have a real problem.”

A curious leader excels by adopting a proactive attitude towards diversity, instead of reacting after problems arise. A strong desire to expand knowledge and advance beyond the status quo provides the drive to promote a truly inclusive workplace culture. Leaders wanting to become more curious should take the time to listen to, understand and value co-workers’ perspectives.

Commitment to Action

The commitment to lead inclusively requires accountability. Leaders must not only create a diverse culture, but also uphold inclusive values and maintain that culture daily. Adopting a hiring program to increase diversity isn’t enough; leaders must also embrace new hires’ ideas and viewpoints to give them a sense of belonging. More than 90 percent of workers feel empowered to innovate and perform at a higher level when they observe inclusive leadership behaviors, as opposed to about 30 percent of employees who don’t view those traits, according to The Hill. Recommended inclusive leadership actions include:

  • Take time to understand cultural differences and identify employees’ strengths and challenges.
  • Give employees a sense of safety by discussing diversity issues with unbiased sensitivity. 
  • Identify and correct processes and behaviors that impede performance, including bias, harassment and discrimination.
  • Seek input from employees on how to make company policies and procedures more inclusive.
  • Encourage multi-disciplinary projects to foster collaboration among employees.
  • Establish open-door policies that encourage employees to provide honest input and feedback on team goals and performance.
  • Act with humility, courage and curiosity to create disruptive change in an organization lacking clear diversity and inclusion policies.

Pursue a Master of Business Administration to Enhance Inclusive Leadership Traits

Leaders who work at companies with strong diversity and inclusion programs are better able to promote success, innovation and loyalty. Leaders looking to expand their skills in inclusive leadership can benefit from the flexible schedule of the University of San Diego’s evening part-time Master of Business Administration program. The program starts with a mandatory “Implicit Bias Training '' as well as offers optional trainings and events that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Furthermore, the current USD School of Business dean, Tim Keane, has made a firm commitment to building a stronger culture of inclusive excellence at the school through recruiting efforts, curriculum reviews, and ongoing trainings for its faculty, staff and students. Learn more about the program today. 



Business Insider, “3 Key Attributes of an Inclusive Leader, According to a Professor of Business Psychology”

CIO, “Diversity and Inclusion: 8 Best Practices for Changing Your Culture”

Deloitte, “The Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership”

Harvard Business Review, “Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One”

Human Resource Executive, “How the World’s Most Admired Companies Drive D&I”

Inc., “6 Questions That Reveal If You Are an Inclusive Leader”

Inc., “6 Reasons to Be an Inclusive Leader”

The Hill, “Companies with Inclusive Leaders Perform Better”

The Muse, “The 5 Things Inclusive Leaders Do Every Single Day”


Renata Ramirez
(619) 260-4658