Inclusion Is the Key Ingredient to Innovative Leadership

When leaders value and model inclusion, they can increase psychological safety and enhance performance on their teams.

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Leading With Impact

In this series, author and organizational coach Chris Clearfield talks with leaders who manage technology-driven teams at innovative organizations across the world. The series will examine universal big-picture challenges as well as specific lessons on sparking ideas and accelerating innovation.
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What does it take to be an innovative leader? In this interview series, I’ve talked to leaders from a range of companies who inspire and catalyze innovation on their teams every day. For Ruchika Tulshyan — author, speaker, and founder and CEO of Candour, a diversity and inclusion strategy firm — the No. 1 trait among innovative leaders is simple: inclusion.

Tulshyan has dedicated her career to teaching leaders how to implement diversity and inclusion practices that actually have an impact. As a Singaporean woman who has lived in five different countries and worked on four continents, Tulshyan brings a valuable perspective to the equity and inclusion conversation — a perspective she shares in her new book, Inclusion on Purpose (MIT Press, 2022).

I spoke recently with Tulshyan about how in her writing and consulting work she hopes to open the lens of inclusion for leaders.

MIT Sloan Management Review: You’ve shared the observation that women, particularly women of color, often experience a sort of paradox: They’re told to negotiate harder but also told not to be aggressive. You’ve also talked about how imposter syndrome blames the individual woman for not feeling like she’s showing up in the way that she “should” — even as it ignores the system dynamics. How do you help people recognize and address these contradictions?

Ruchika Tulshyan: The imposter syndrome narrative hasn’t been challenged in 50 years. Even when research showed that men experience it just as often as women, and when there was research to show that people of color actually experienced it more often than White people, that never really took off.

A woman — or a woman of color — might show up in the workplace and she might feel like she doesn’t belong. I think to immediately blame her for those feelings without accounting for the cultural, social, and environmental contexts — the conversation lacks nuance.

I, too, have been conditioned with the gender schema. Sometimes when women show up in the workplace or show up in my interactions with them in a way that runs counter to the gender schema, even now, I have to catch myself doing it and ask myself, “Why did I immediately think, ‘She’s aggressive,’ or, ‘She’s unlikable’?”

I do think that this work begins with us, in many ways, decolonizing ourselves from oppressive systems.

Topics

Leading With Impact

In this series, author and organizational coach Chris Clearfield talks with leaders who manage technology-driven teams at innovative organizations across the world. The series will examine universal big-picture challenges as well as specific lessons on sparking ideas and accelerating innovation.
More in this series

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Comment (1)
Dagon Prince
the true paradox is that inclusion by its nature means that one group targeted for inclusion is now "favored" over other groups. It is not merely making an even playing fields. As the population is dissected into more groups, which are selected as worthy of inclusion? What is the criteria the selection on which the criteria is based? Who decides and why them? since we can be members of multiple groups - included, excluded, majority, minority, aggressor,  victim, etc. trying to balance what cannot be balanced is futile. Leaders should create environments and empower people where equality and equal access are a given and outcomes are an individual's responsibility.