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Strategies for Inclusive Leadership in the Digital Workplace

October 19, 2023
Business leader participating in a inclusive digital workplace online

Inclusion is one of the most powerful factors in the American workplace and is an essential practice for people in leadership positions. In a 2023 survey of nearly 6,000 workers, 56% of employees said that focusing on diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a good thing. Further, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are important to investors as well. A study by Degreed and RedThread Research found that investors’ DEI demands strongly influence 65% of investment professionals’ environmental, social, and governance evaluations of companies. This was up from 45% of those same professionals in 2020.

While you might consider yourself to be an inclusive leader already, it’s possible to improve your skills and refine them for the digital workplace. This can potentially open up future career opportunities, especially if you’re interested in entering the field of international relations or want to work with global firms. 

Even if you continue to work at a U.S.-based company, you’ll likely manage remote teams at least part of the time. An estimated 35 million employees work remotely at least part-time while 21 million work remotely full-time. This is a significant increase from less than 6 million full-time remote workers in 2010.    

Fortunately, there are global degree programs to help you be a better leader in the digital workplace, so you can step confidently into your new role or grow your existing management skills. These tools can also help you take an inclusive approach to leadership across the board. 

There are many actionable steps a workplace leader can take to support and nurture inclusivity in their digital workplace. Use this guide to ensure your virtual work environment is as inclusive as it can be.

1. Be Mindful of How Inclusivity Can Improve Your Business Outcomes

Inclusivity can be a buzzword that your team throws around when it is convenient, or it can be a core value that your employees and managers practice each day. Focus on why inclusivity is important in a digital environment if you want it to improve business outcomes. 

For example, if you believe that diverse workplaces create opportunities for people from different backgrounds to share ideas and solutions, you will be more likely to create an inclusive team when you are troubleshooting an issue. 

Find your why when it comes to inclusivity so you can tie efforts to actionable outcomes. 

2. Build a Supportive Environment

Evaluate your digital processes and communications to ensure you’re creating a safe work environment for all employees. Develop policies for professional communication in your company’s digital environment. Also, make sure your team members feel safe meeting with you about any topic, even if it covers a sensitive subject or concern.

3. Remain Open-Minded and Adaptable

You will likely make a mistake as you try to create a more inclusive digital workplace. This is perfectly normal. You, and everyone else you work with, are learning and growing together.

Try to remain open-minded about the inclusivity policies you develop. Listen when someone suggests you made a mistake. This isn’t easy. Many people struggle to admit they’re wrong or change plans they carefully developed. They fear judgment or even punishment from others, which hurts their egos.  

Admitting that you made a mistake and adapting your plans isn’t a sign of failure or weakness on your part. In fact, it takes strength to acknowledge your imperfections. 

4. Be an Active Advocate for Inclusivity in Your Workplace

While you might be a champion for inclusivity in your digital workplace, not everyone might recognize the benefits of embracing this core value. As you develop new initiatives, share them with other departments. Highlight the work your team did and the benefits of their efforts. 

For example, allow employees to adjust their hours during the school year to accommodate parents who need to pick up and drop off their kids. You can mention how this change had minimal impact on your workflows while also increasing employee engagement. 

As other departments adopt inclusive policies, your workplace as a whole can become a better place. 

5. Create Clear and Open Channels for Communication

Communication policies can create a safe and inclusive work environment for your team. First, make sure most forms of communication have a paper trail. For example, meetings or calls need agendas ahead of time and recaps after. This allows team members to review what was discussed—limiting the amount of back-and-forths necessary to get caught up in the digital workplace. 

Next, make sure your employees feel safe talking to you about difficult situations. If one person has an issue with a co-worker, they might not want their experiences aired to the office. Open channels of communication make people feel safe and empowered to speak up. 

6. Expand Your Search for Talent Into Diverse Communities

Creating a new company policy won’t make your company diverse and inclusive overnight. These practices take work through the development of healthy workplace habits. One way to become more diverse is to develop inclusive recruiting strategies. This allows you to actively seek out fresh perspectives and team members with different educational, social, and professional backgrounds. 

The next time you need to hire a team member or contractor, recruit with diversity in mind. Reach out to untapped populations and highlight your inclusivity efforts in job postings. You can also create company ambassadors to reach out to different communities to boost interest in your company in the long run.  

7. Support the Professional Growth of Your Employees

One way to promote inclusivity across your team is to ensure each employee has the opportunity to grow their skills and experience. Talk to your team members about their career goals and consider how you could help achieve them. This could range from sending an employee to an industry conference so they stay on top of trends or investing in mentorship for employees who want to become leaders. 

There are more opportunities for professional growth in the digital workplace. Employees can meet with mentors virtually or attend conferences from their homes. Your goal as a leader is to support the time and energy your employees put into their own development because you want to see them thrive.

8. Encourage Input From Different Members of Your Team

A diverse team will bring multiple viewpoints to the table; an inclusive team will feel safe expressing those viewpoints. Often, some employees feel too insecure to speak up during meetings or discussions. The conversation might get dominated by a few people or some of your staff might worry about saying something unintelligent or incorrect. 

Take steps to actively empower your introverted team digitally. Create space for introverts to speak up without fear of being talked over. Encourage them to share their thoughts. Additionally, create space for employees to share their ideas outside of large meetings, so your team can offer insights on their terms.  

9. Ensure Meetings and Other Discussions Are Attended by a Diverse Team

There are multiple ways to make sure your virtual meetings and discussions are diverse. As the person calling the meeting, you can ensure that each individual has a unique professional background or demographic background that is relevant to the discussion. You could also invite lower-level employees like interns to sit in on these meetings. This could be a significant way to grow their experience and provide them with fresh business perspectives. 

Be mindful of who has a seat at the table. You can make your meetings diverse without inviting too many people. 

10. Educate Yourself About Inclusivity

Everyone in your workplace has a different life experience, from an intern with a learning disability to a senior executive who is also a person of color. Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, socio-economic class, religion, and personal background. 

Be open to learning about people from different backgrounds and what their life experiences are like. Acknowledge that everyone shares differences and similarities in how they navigate life. This is part of what makes people unique and human. Just because a co-worker works remotely in a different state or country doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn about them and form digital professional connections. 

11. Make Sure You Are Not in a Demographic Echo Chamber

An echo chamber is a place where you only hear ideas that you agree with and encounter statements that align with your beliefs. When this occurs in business, teams are made up of people with similar demographics or belief systems. Their ideas are never challenged because everyone in the room has similar values. 

Diversity can be uncomfortable at times—and it should be. It means that people with different beliefs will challenge what you accept as the norm. Look at the people you virtually work with, network with, and learn from to ensure you aren’t in an echo chamber of your own making.   

12. Regularly Solicit Feedback

The vast majority of employees do not feel like management listens to their concerns. A 2022 survey by Howspace found that only one in 10 employees feel heard within their organizations. One of the most powerful things you can do as a manager of any team is genuinely listen to your staff. 

Rather than waiting for your employees to come to you, actively reach out to collect feedback. You can do this on a macro level through surveys or on a smaller scale through one-on-one conversations. The more you ask for feedback and act on it, the more your team will become comfortable bringing problems or concerns to you.  

13. Be an Enthusiastic and Active Listener

One key step to soliciting better feedback is to become an active listener. In the world of constant digital communication, this is harder than you think. Employees and managers are inundated with chat pings, emails, texts, and other messages throughout the day. It’s easy to get distracted when someone is talking to you. 

Along with practicing active listening by asking questions and recapping statements, take steps to banish distractions. Turn off notifications and close your email inbox. This will allow you to be present and hear what team members have to say.   

14. Leverage Various Resources Related to Inclusivity

Don’t expect perfection from yourself or your team as you invest in diversity and inclusivity. Instead, develop a large collection of resources your team can use to learn and grow. These can include podcasts, books, blogs, YouTube channels, and other open discussion and learning resources. Inclusivity is a journey, not a checkbox to hit on your core values. 

Remember that inclusivity is for everyone, no matter their station in the company or duration within the organization. Every single virtual or in-person team member can work to create a safe and welcoming space for good ideas and great workers.