Editorial Note: Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Trade Show Executive magazine.
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey
As we are reminded this month to demonstrate appreciation for those around us, executive leaders are presented with the perfect opportunity to extend this sentiment to their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. Inclusive leadership allows top executives to set the standard and tone at their organization as to the expectations regarding company culture and policy. Just as strategic plans can be innovative and bold, so can inclusive leadership initiatives.
Like any sound business strategy, it is important to understand where you are at in order to determine where you want to get and what you want to achieve along the way. A challenge many executive leaders face to instilling a strong DE&I culture is establishing what that means for their organization. It is not unusual for top executives who genuinely believe their organization has been doing a good job with inclusivity to discover there is much more room for improvement than they thought once they delve into it (and that is okay).
So, what exactly is inclusive leadership? Generally speaking, it involves creating an environment in which your team members feel they are represented and heard throughout all levels of the organization. Easy enough, right? Here’s the key: you must aim for ALL team members to feel welcomed at ALL levels of the organization. Do not be surprised if your idea of “ALL” does not match everyone else’s (again, it is all part of the process so embrace it!).
Inclusive leadership has a trickle-down effect, therefore the higher in the organization it starts the more successful it will be. In order to be effective, the commitment to inclusivity must apply across the entire spectrum of company managers and team leaders. One of the easiest ways to make headway in your DE&I journey is to unequivocally convey to your team members that the organization is ready and willing to commit to doing whatever it takes to reach new heights in its company culture.
The advantage executive leaders have is that the process involves skills that we apply all the time. We understand that we are stewards of the collective effort it takes to keep our companies at the top of their game and we are no strangers to a continuous cycle of input, evaluation and actionable improvement. It is important that you open the doors to honest feedback and suggestions, no matter how hard it may be to hear. Even more importantly, make good on your promise to face your organization’s challenges head on and follow through with converting the information received into action.
Fortunately, our industry is progressive and has been addressing DE&I. We acknowledge the need for improvement and we know there are resources available. We also know there are compelling reasons to engage in inclusive leadership that directly benefit our organizations. As we combat the overall challenges to our industry’s workforce, no one can refute the value of a loyal, dedicated and collaborative employee – even more compelling is a fleet of them! Loyalty, dedication and a desire to give your all is a two-way street and inclusive leadership paves the road to that success.
We, as executive leaders, are charged with keeping our organizations in the best shape possible and meeting challenges front and center when improvement is needed. This month I challenge you to take a deep dive into inclusive leadership as it applies to your organization and make significant improvements that will ultimately benefit everyone!
David DuBois, CMP Fellow, CAE, FASAE, CTA
IAEE President & CEO
Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance Co-President