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Why inclusive leadership matters more than ever with Jitske Kramer

Our most recent edition of TOPdesk SEE took place on 15 June. And what a blast it was! Want to stay in the loop about our next event? Subscribe for TOPdesk SEE updates.

It’s no secret that having a diverse team leads to more innovative decisions and a higher level of creativity. But, Mckinsey research suggests, with the disruptive effects of the pandemic forcing organizations to take measures to sustain their employees’ productivity and wellbeing, many businesses could find themselves placing diversity and inclusion on the back burner.

For this year’s TOPdesk SEE on 15 June, we’ve invited renowned corporate anthropologist and author Jitske Kramer to help you leverage your team’s different strengths for an optimal customer experience. An experienced facilitator and trainer, she considers diversity and inclusion as top priorities for organizations seeking high team performance, innovation and, perhaps most importantly, a people-centred culture.

We asked Jitske to explain why differences drive innovation and creativity, and how to tap into the power of diversity and inclusion to help your team reach new heights:

Your talk at TOPdesk SEE is going to focus on the topics of diversity and inclusion. What prompted you to start exploring these subjects in your work?

I’m an anthropologist, which means I try to understand how people shape cultures and vice versa. We know that we’re all different—that’s not something special; it’s a given. You and I have different ideas and we’re part of different subgroups. And, at the same time, we’re both people. Juggling diverse ideas and working out how to align with each other is at the core of how we shape cultures. As an anthropologist, that’s been at the top of my mind since the beginning of my career.

I initially started working in organizations as a trainer and coach, working on corporate change and culture change. I quickly realized that innovation required diverse ideas; to get to the best team results and to work most effectively, you need to combine a variety of perspectives. And, if there's a blockage within a team, it’s usually precisely because of these differences in ideas. Dealing with diversity isn’t an add-on. It’s at the core of teamwork and leadership because it is essentially about dealing with opposing views, balancing paradoxes and dilemmas, and overcoming conflict. If you want a thriving organization with a strong culture and innovative entrepreneurship, where people are put first, you need to think about diversity and inclusion. 

What do the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” mean to you?

Diversity means that we’re all different, with both visible and invisible differences. Inclusion is how we deal with those differences. So, they go hand in hand; it’s not an either-or situation. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that come with working in a diverse environment?

Diversity has the promise of a high-performance team and of innovation and creativity, provided it’s managed well. This requires us to deal with our differences and prevent potential misunderstandings. We need to learn how to listen, how to truly understand what others are saying, and how to change our mindset if needed.

The other things we need to manage are power dynamics; a major challenge when it comes to working in a diverse environment is the question of power. We need to ask: Who defines the norm? Who defines what counts as “good behaviour”? And who decides what we spend our money on? Power dynamics and ranking systems can often prevent us from reaching the best solution, by blinding us to the true quality of our different views. 

In the wake of COVID-19, it’s likely that some organizations may shift focus away from diversity and inclusion. Why do we need to ensure that we practice inclusive leadership during times of crisis?

[Failing to prioritize diversity and inclusion] is the last thing you should be doing in a crisis. COVID-19 has brought about a great deal of change. And, throughout those changes, we need to work together to find the best solutions. You need to deal with diverse ideas and emotions, and this is therefore the time to work on becoming more inclusive. It’s similar to a period of transformation in that you need to work with uncertainty, not knowing where to go. And to find your next steps, you need to have (as I like to call it) a “jam session”, in which you gather team members with a diverse range of perspectives and look for solutions together.

The pandemic also highlighted the societal problems we already had, such as the divide between the poor and the rich, and the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo showed us exactly which groups of people weren’t being heard. Especially during times of crisis, we need to make sure that we listen to all views and that we do better than we did before. Make it your top priority to practice inclusive leadership, especially now!

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