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Six traits of inclusive leadership

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

– Stephen Covey

Dr. Bijna Kotak Dasani is CEO at She is a board member with various firms across the globe and works passionately to drive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Six traits of inclusive leadership

Manoj Agrawal: In your focus areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, what is your observation about the progress in the economic sphere and in the social sphere?

Dr. Bijna Kotak Dasani: Whilst there are countless economic and social progressions, directly through the DE&I spectrum, we must remain mindful of the paradoxes of diversity also catalyzed by social and economic change both in organizations and communities alike.

The practitioner’s journal of The NTL Institute for Applied Behavioural Science argues that without adequate training on effective leadership, managers can in fact instigate paradoxical practices such as:

  • Unrecognized or denied privilege or positive bias which excludes communities
  • Selective identification where individuals will align to the weakest / most oppressed factor of their intersectionality
  • Fear and communities to ‘walk on eggshells’
  • Fractured constituents where solidarity is gained for one lens of intersectionality (such as gender) but fractured for others (such as orientation)
  • Competitiveness vs. contribution whereby community clusters seek reward / acceptance / validation louder than others as opposed to sub-groups of larger collectives all aiming for cohesion

What category of people do you see making the biggest impact?

Those who can understand, embrace and lead by example tend to create impact through inclusive leadership practices. Harvard Business Review reported what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included. And this really matters because the more people feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate – all of which ultimately lifts organizational performance. The same applies to political and social environments and whether we are assessing our next line manager or Prime Minister, there are reportedly 6 key traits that underpin a truly inclusive leader:

  1. Visible commitment: They articulate authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold people to account and create equity in inclusive environments.
  2. Humility: They are humble, do not shy away from learning through attempt and encourage collective participation and ideation.
  3. Awareness of bias: They show awareness of personal blind spots and embed effort to create a meritocracy.
  4. Curiosity about others: They listen without judgment and prejudice and deploy compassion and empathy to understand people around them
  5. Cultural intelligence: They are attentive to others’ cultures and adapt as required or implement measures that create provisions of respect for communities.
  6. Effective collaboration: They empower others, pay attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety and work to build cohesion and environments which encourage authenticity.

Has the progress reached to tipping point (from linear to exponential?)

The World Bank describes Social Inclusion as the process of improving terms on which individuals and groups take part in society – improving the ability, opportunity and dignity of those (previously) disadvantaged on the basis of their identity. We have observed the most intricate insights of our time into this dynamic through the recent pandemic and the scale, depth and breadth of the systematic inequalities on a local (India) and global level remain systematic and deep-rooted.

There is a significant level of reform required to instigate practices which can deliver tangible, measurable progress and outcomes – away for social exclusion and economic paralysis. We are today, simply uncovering the magnitude of factors that remain open for address through the social and economic lenses of the DE&I agenda – and what we understand today, is merely a drop in the ocean.


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