Blog Post

How to Take an Intentional Approach to Inclusive Leadership

Adrienne Shulman

AVP, Business Systems, Cornerstone OnDemand

Living and working in the digital age, with its constant change and new innovations, is both exhilarating and at times frightening. There has never been more opportunity, yet we’re all at risk of being disrupted at any time. At Cornerstone we often say "tomorrow will look nothing like today," but since no one knows what the future will bring, what can individuals and organizations do to ensure that we are not the ones being disrupted? The answer to this question lies in understanding a key difference between the digital age we’re living through and previous industrial revolutions.

The digital age allows you to tap into a world market easier and faster than ever before. It’s how Cornerstone can deliver Talent solutions to 75 million users across over 180 countries. But to take advantage of a global market, you need to understand the world. And there is no better way to do this than by creating and developing diverse and inclusive teams. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is more important for business than ever: a truly diverse team increases team intelligence, offering different perspectives and skill sets.

Despite these trends, companies have been slow to successfully implement D&I, and inclusion specifically has lagged. One 2020 survey suggests that while 9 in 10 employees described their companies as diverse, 3 in 10 said they didn't feel a sense of inclusion or belonging at work. Even if a company has hired a diverse team, it won’t benefit from increased team intelligence unless employees feel they belong: employees who don’t feel included will keep their ideas and opinions to themselves. Think about every cringe-worthy Super Bowl commercial you’ve seen, and you’ll understand the dangers of people being afraid to share their opinion.

In 2019, I was tapped to lead the D&I initiative within Cornerstone’s tech org. I quickly realized that a true sense of inclusion has to start with the leadership team, because leaders are the ones who drive social norms at companies. Their actions have a trickle-down effect. So I implemented a plan to drive inclusive leadership at Cornerstone—and in the process I learned a great deal about what defines inclusive leadership, how to implement it, and how it can continue to evolve.

What Does an Inclusive Leader Look Like—and Why Do They Matter?

When our CTO asked me to take on this effort to increase D&I in Cornerstone’s tech org, I didn’t get busy creating employee resource groups or mentoring programs targeting minorities. Instead I gave myself six months to achieve one very strategic goal: convince the 20-person tech leadership team that inclusion is integral to our strategic vision for the company. In that time, I acted as a coach and D&I advocate to these leaders, helping them first understand what it means to be an inclusive leader.

Harvard Business Review research suggests that there are six core traits of inclusive leaders:

Visible commitment

Humility

Awareness of bias

Curiosity about others

Cultural intelligence

Effective collaboration

Inclusive leaders pay attention to who's invited to meetings, they don't tolerate disrespect, and they make sure the loudest person in the room is not doing all the talking. And by modeling inclusive practices, they drive social norms at the company.

Think about unconscious bias training at companies today. If employees hear about this training from the HR department, people will look at it like a box to check. But when your CTO or manager says, ’Hey, this is really important. And here are all the benefits we get as an organization, as people,’ it changes people's behavior.

How to Be an Inclusive Leader

Becoming an inclusive leader is a process that starts with the first of HBR’s traits: commitment. If you commit to being an inclusive leader, the rest of the traits will follow.

As a biracial woman with a 20-year career in software engineering, I am all too familiar with the experience of being an "only,": the only woman on a team, in a room, or at a leadership table. This made it easy for me to think I would be more naturally inclusive and able to counteract my biases at work. But then, during a one-on-one meeting, a member of my team called me out. She told me that she felt unappreciated and excluded when I recognized a group of employees for their work and neglected to include her in that recognition—even though she was a major contributor to the project.

It was an important learning moment for me, but also one that wouldn’t have happened had I not committed to building trust. She felt safe to share how she felt and knew I was open to hearing about mistakes I make.

As I was working with my peers on the leadership team, I challenged them to build the same openness and trust with their teams. I asked them to think: When was the last time someone called you out about your bias? When was the last time someone disagreed with you? If no one challenges you, it’s not because you are perfect. Most of the time, employees aren’t going to be forthcoming with tough feedback—as a leader, you have to invite that feedback, listen to the feedback without reacting, and then learn from it and change your behaviors.

Driving Long-Term Inclusive Leadership

Ultimately, I met the goal I set for myself in the first six months—and it had exactly the impact I was hoping for. The leaders prioritized D&I and as a result, employees began raising their hands to participate. The visible commitment demonstrated by leaders gave employees permission to organize and start speaking out. We quickly had 50 volunteers to work on different committees internally to drive ongoing change and advance D&I through all areas of our technology department.

Since then, we’ve seen many examples of inclusive leadership in action, like how our leadership team recently took advantage of remote work to invite more people to the table for our annual cloud summit, where we make decisions about our tech stack. Instead of a small group of people gathered at headquarters, we had 100 people from around the world participate. And it was by far our most successful and insightful summit yet.

Inclusive leadership is, above all, an ongoing journey. You can never put this on auto pilot. You’re always learning. And as we saw with the pandemic, things change all the time; inclusive leadership is about constantly expanding your understanding of people and culture, and consistently adjusting the work environment to ensure everyone has a sense of belonging and contributing fully.

To learn more about inclusive leadership, check out insights from industry experts below. And for even more insights and strategies to build an inclusive culture in the workplace, tune into Season 3 of HR Labs, where we focus each episode on strategies to take D&I from intention to action.

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Great moments, shared as a team

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Great moments, shared as a team

As April whizzes past, we sit down with some of our Cornerstars, who are currently celebrating their work anniversaries, and ask them to reflect on their experiences at Cornerstone so far. In our previous blog, the focus was on the people and how it’s the employees at Cornerstone that make it such a great place to work. And this shared ethos of working together and helping each other has been talked about by each Cornerstar we’ve asked. “It’s about the teamwork, a team you can depend on, people that go the extra mile, helping and being helped. Our greatest asset is our people, I state this in every meeting I have with prospects and clients” said Max Schroeter, Regional Sales Manager at Cornerstone. Hanns Horvath, Delivery Manager, agreed and said “I like the people. They are all the best.” When we asked our Cornerstars what has been there favourite moment so far, it is no surprise that they struggled to name just one. However, the event that came up the most was Convergence. Each year we hold a conference for clients and colleagues alike to come together and connect. “Getting all our clients to come to the dancefloor and dance. It’s one of the many reasons they like coming to Cornerstone events, being able to party with the Cornerstars!” said Max Schroeter. For Christiaan Weurding, Regional Sales Manager, the overall support and activities at Cornerstone are a highlight “there is a lot of time invested in personal development, support in my daily job and great activities like development day, anniversary and Convergence.” And it’s being able to share exciting moments with their teams that drive our Cornerstars to challenge themselves. Fermin Arbea, Implementation Consultant highlights: “At Cornerstone you find a great working environment, with colleagues always willing to collaborate. Also, it is a place to find challenges where you can grow both professionally and personally.” It is this shared team spirit at Cornerstone that drives colleagues to help one another and work together to generate success. Oliver Normand Account Manager Strategic, EMEA said “it was a great team success when, after 18 months of negotiation, we signed an important contract with one of our major clients in Europe.” Overall, it is this shared culture that drive our Cornerstars to succeed. Fermin Arbea believes that “the greatest moments are ones that we share among the whole team, collaborating with initiatives in which we can help other people. These are moments in which we all unite a little more and return home with a shared smile.”

Kindness in a crisis

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Kindness in a crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt and dominate our lives, feelings of anxiety are completely normal during times of uncertainty. Each person will be impacted in a different way and it is important to remember that you are not alone. Already there are so many stories emerging of human kindness and compassion and people pulling together to help and support each other. Already there are some wonderful examples of where people have demonstrated such kindness and compassion and that it is so heart-warming. I did however, read in the BBC news last weekend about a man who apparently wouldn’t give an elderly lady just ONE of a number of (the last) packets of dry pasta he had selfishly grabbed from the shelf. He said no when she asked him politely. Then this morning in the supermarket the toilet roll aisle was being policed by supermarket staff and I actually saw a woman in a wheelchair struggling to get through! We need to be supporting and looking after the elderly and vulnerable. This is a time when the power of human kindness can and will shine through. We are all in it together and this is not every person for themselves. There is no doubt about it; the world would be a better place to be if there were more consideration and kindness about. It certainly seems that over the last few years there has been a deluge of animosity, ugly fake news, bullying behavior across social media, bitter electioneering, and at times, relentless volatility and overwhelming pressure with burnout. Now we have been presented with a challenge that has turned most of lives upside down and we need to be kind and support each other more than ever. History demonstrates that a crisis will bring out the very worst or the very best in people. We all have a choice and choosing kindness will benefit everyone in one way or another This is the time to be kinder to ourselves, kinder to others and kinder to our environment. Against the backdrop of fear, isolation and inevitable loss and grief, we must not lose our quintessential traits such as empathy, compassion and kindness. Being kind is a way you can spread goodness in the world, and it’s those small thoughtful gestures, added together, that will indeed make the world a better place to be. Acts of kindness are one of the greatest ways to inspire others and those around you will take note and your kindness will be contagious and create a ripple effect. Here are ten things ways that you can be part of the kindness revolution… 1. Be kind to yourself Self-care and self-compassion are so important when it comes to being healthy, happy and resilient. Investing in your personal well-being is kindness in itself because when you feel better about yourself you will set a positive example, which will positively influence others to be kind to themselves too. 2. Make kindness a habit You are essentially what you repeatedly do and, in many ways, kindness is a habit and is one that everyone can cultivate. A great way to build the habit is to focus on kindness every day for a month. Set out to do kind things for yourself and for others. Then set aside time at the end of each day to reflect and write down some of the things that you have done. 3. Gift people your time Time is a very precious commodity and giving people your time is a valuable gift. Being truly present and listening to someone, by avoiding all distractions, and giving a person the time of day is one of the greatest acts of kindness. Take the time to truly absorb yourself in what the other person is saying before responding and demonstrate to the person that you appreciate their unique situation. 4. Be compassionate Sometimes, people may not be very nice to you and it could well upset you. It is always worth reminding yourself that often this is born out of unhappiness, insecurity, loneliness, stress or fatigue. Extending the hand of human kindness in these situations can be challenging, although this is the time when people need your kindness the most. 5. Empathise Empathy and understanding are part of an emotional process that builds connection between people. It is about ‘reading’ another person’s inner state and interpreting it in a way that will help the other person to feel supported and it also has the added benefit of developing mutual trust. 6. Avoid gossip Social media can be a playground for toxic behaviour and a place where gossip mongering is rife. Even just reading some of the cruel and unnecessarily hurtful comments about other people fuels the bandwagon and can contaminate your own thinking. Being critical, judgmental and gossiping about other people is not about kindness. You will feel much happier when you actively seek out the good in people and practise tolerance and empathy. If you haven’t got something positive, helpful or constructive to say about someone else it is better to say nothing. 7. Be optimistic Be optimistic and seek out the good in others and in the world around you. This will also help you to be resilient and deal with adversity and life’s inevitable setbacks. Optimism is the bedrock of kindness and will continuously restore your faith in humanity. Cultivating an optimistic outlook and a positive mindset will ensure that acts of kindness are delivered with genuine joy rather than with reluctance or out of a sense of duty. Now more than ever we need to focus on the positives, because even the biggest problem can bring with it opportunities. 8. Be grateful Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a fundamental part of being kind. It is so important not to take anything for granted and thank people and let them know how much you appreciate them. Kind people are easily able to express gratitude and make a habit of being more grateful. 9. Be kind to the planet Climate change is impacting our planet and raising awareness of how much waste you can potentially create is a good place to start to counteract it. If every individual and every business made an effort to reduce their impact on the environment then together a real difference can be made. The changes that you make don’t have to be huge either and there are so many simple things that you can do at home or in the workplace that will help to save the planet. 10. Be part of the kindness revolution In a world that can sometimes be cruel and unkind, it is time to start a revolution … A kindness revolution! Wherever possible (and it is always possible), be kind. Every day of your life there will be ways you can practise kindness. So go out there and discover what they are. Life is a precious gift and every living human being has the opportunity to make a positive difference in just a small and unique way. Note from the author – Liggy Webb We are experiencing unprecedented times and there is a great deal of advice and information circulating, some of it very valuable and important, some of it is not. It is important to balance your intake of news and for every negative thing you hear or read, make sure that you actively seek out positive stories that will uplift you. A healthy balance is so important for your mental health and wellbeing. By following the advice and guidelines from the government, who are doing everything they can to keep us safe, we will get through this challenging time. The lessons we learn along the way will make us stronger and fitter for the future. By taking each day at a time and doing the small things that are in your control will help to ease the build of anxiety. Most important of all be kind to yourself, take one step at a time and remember you are not alone, we are all in this together, and this will pass. For free access to Liggy’s bite sized book on kindness and resilience please email liggy@liggywebb.com

Liggy Webb mood boosters and how to feel better in stormy times

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Liggy Webb mood boosters and how to feel better in stormy times

2020 has been a challenge for most and as much as we were very hopeful about 2021, it feels like a déjà vu. Lockdowns everywhere, the “new norm” seems like it is here to stay, face masks and hand sanitiser. We have had to learn to be resilient, it is not so much about hoping things get back to normal, but to adapt and embrace change as part of our daily routine. It is here to stay. Why is my boss in my living-room? Liggy Webb has been sharing some incredible ideas with us on how to embrace wellbeing, kindness and stay mentally healthy during this pandemic. Organisations need to champion these behaviors too. We have seen HR departments embrace our free online content modules; especially the pieces around wellbeing and health, which were the most requested courses, as my colleague Mark Lamswood shared with us in his piece “Why content… and why now?”. The line between work and life has disappeared, for those that can work remotely – and whilst we are thankful for that, it can be hard to find balance in our lives. Is this the responsibility of an employer, though? To a certain extent, it really should be. Questions around resources have been circling for some time now, do we have a laptop for every kid to connect to online classes? Do we have a spare office in the home to work? Who will take care of the kids if both parents are working remotely? Why is my boss in my living-room? Constant Zoom calls, webcams on, screaming children in the background and the lack of privacy are taking a toll on us. Here are some positives to this new cozy office set-up: I have to confess I am not embarrassed to put the webcam on while in my pyjamas with certain colleagues and the conversations around hairstyles, pets and home décor have brought us together. Please – send help! Stress used to be a big one. Non-stop travelling, meetings all day, commuting to the office and then – if time was left - your private life. Now all those different departments of our existence, have been squeezed in one home for almost a year and stress is even more acute than it used to be. “Worrying about contracting Covid-19, feeling lonely, and not thinking positively were all strongly associated with how anxious and depressed people became.” BMJ Open report In a nutshell, we are more stressed than ever. We are worrying about survival. More vulnerable to fall into unhealthy habits and the uncertainty of not knowing when and if this will be over is not helping. As Dr. Sarah Campbell explained in this video not everyone has the resources to adapt to this massive change and HR departments can help. But let us look in the mirror first and own our responsibilities. Walk the talk – together | This is not a one-size-fits-all approach but there are plenty of little things we can do! Using Liggy as my main inspiration – this is what has worked for me: Show some teeth | As lame as it may sound, I am reminding myself to smile each day. A great way to do so is by creating an e-coffee or e-lunch call with some of the team members and chat about anything BUT work. Or join a laughter group, like this one here created by a artist friend of mine called “Laughter Yoga for Creatives” in which we connect, turn the webcam on and do laugh therapy together. See the sky | Some of the lockdown rules are very strict and we do not all have the same space at home. But having a dog forces you to make that commitment to go for a walk every day. Make that commitment to yourself if you don’t have a pet, book the time in your diary and stretch, meditate, dance in the shower to your favorite tune. Studies show sedentarism is bad for your health. Get a standing desk, sit on an exercise ball or even better – get Stand Up! The Work Break Timer. Eyeliner to start the day | I am a feminist but … starting the day with lipstick and eyeliner makes me a better feminist. And it really does! It helps me get into the office mood and to not panic when I am asked to turn the camera on.  Be kind | To boost my mood and give back I am always creating online donation campaigns for causes that are dear to my heart. It keeps me busy with something different to work, it connects me with other people that feel the same and it helps me channel my energy into something positive. Join us too! Start your joruney and boost your mood in this turbulent moment! Get your e-book for free today here and share your experience with us along the way!

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