Meeting individuals where they’re at with personalized leadership
At one point in my career, my definition of inclusive leadership, among other things, meant a leader who would accommodate or recognize the need to accommodate my religious identity that may overlap with my work. At that time, I did have an inclusive leader who gave me space in her office so I could pray and who allowed me to adjust my working hours during the month of Ramadan because of fasting. She created a space and an environment in which I felt comfortable enough to express my religious identity and feel celebrated for it. There was the key.
However, I am not the same person I was when I was working there years ago and that is imperative to highlight. I am not a monolith; my professional needs constantly change, my definition of inclusivity expands, and my thoughts on inclusivity in the workplace shift all the time. As a Palestinian and a second-generation Canadian, my thoughts on inclusive leadership and inclusivity in the workplace continue to shift and change every so often based on so many factors. Why is that important? It is important because I never appreciate blanket statements or efforts towards inclusivity. Without connecting with your employees first, how can a leader know what will work best for their team? Can a leader who does not even know their employees or co-workers create an inclusive environment? Better yet, how can a leader be inclusive and promote an inclusive workplace if their employees are too scared to approach them?
There is a need and a beauty in personalizing and individualizing inclusive leadership so that it aligns well with the needs of those you work with. It is easy to assume that inclusive leadership looks like a leader going around asking visible minorities or BIPOC how they could make the work environment better for them. Some may look towards the opinions or suggestions of those same employees to inform their decisions and consider that inclusive. To me, that just does not cut it.
An inclusive leader cares about YOU. You are not just a number or another employee. You are important and you matter, and so does your identity…if you want it to matter. Some people want their cultural identity at the forefront of who they are in the workplace and others do not. A cultural identity, I should mention, encompasses all elements of a person’s identity (nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, sexual orientation, locality, etc.). An inclusive leader needs to connect enough with those they work with to know what works for each person.
Inclusive leadership looks like a leader that communicates and connects enough with you to understand what inclusivity means to you. It is so easy to assume that every employee from a specific culture, background, or religion defines inclusivity in the same way; that is simply not the case. Everyone might have a different definition of inclusivity in the workplace, and it is the leader’s job to understand those definitions and to come up with one that works for their team dynamic.
So, what does inclusive leadership look like to me? A leader who takes the time to ask the right questions. A leader who engages in deep and open dialogue. A leader who creates an open and comfortable space for everyone to feel seen and heard. Ultimately, an inclusive leader asks, what does inclusivity in the workplace look like for you?
As part of our ongoing Inclusive Leadership Lab, today’s guest post was contributed by Dina Shamlawi, who earned her M.Ed. in Educational Administration and Leadership from the University of Alberta in 2015. She has since worked as an educator and within the higher education sector. Dina is currently pursuing her MA in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University. Are you looking to develop your competence as an inclusive leader? Our Executive Certificate in Inclusive Leadership can help.