According to Gartner, DE&I initiatives continue to rank in the top five HR priorities for 2022. But while HR and C-suite initiatives are vital, without personal investment from individual leaders, these initiatives can only do so much to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within an organization.
One way to improve your proficiency in some of the key attributes of an inclusive leader is to actively seek out inclusive experiences. We grow deeply from experience, and inviting new opportunities into your life, both personally and professionally, can help shape and expand your outlook.
What kind of inclusive experiences can help us grow as leaders, and how does one seek them out without treating them as a checklist?
1. Read fiction from diverse authors
While many business leaders skew their reading habits toward non-fiction, there is an excellent case to be made for reading fiction—specifically literary fiction. Studies reveal that people who read literary fiction tend to improve empathy, theory of mind, and critical thinking. Taking the time to explore authors outside of your own background and demographic can give you new perspectives and new language to talk about old or uncomfortable issues.
2. Look for social opportunities
Watch for opportunities to talk to people from different backgrounds. These don’t have to be lengthy conversations—just be open to the engagement. Get outside your neighborhood, your current friend circle, and your bubble to talk to others with different perspectives and ideas.
Travel has always been a way to indulge a curious mind. Rather than revisit favorite vacation spots or places where tourism is the primary industry, go off the beaten path and engage people from different backgrounds. This is not to promote so-called “voluntourism,” though short-term volunteer travel opportunities have both advantages and disadvantages. Instead, approach travel as an opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture as much as possible. Consider that travel doesn’t have to involve a foreign destination; every country, including the US, has a vast array of microcultures and perspectives to explore.
4. Expand your social circle
Be intentional about growing your social circle. As you engage in new conversations and talk to new people, look for ways to connect with them again. Visit different community groups, or find people who share your interests outside of your local geography. Make an effort to develop relationships with people who aren’t in your usual circle.
Seeking out these experiences is just the first step toward developing a more inclusive mindset, and it’s easy to see them as tasks to be checked off and forgotten.
5. Ask questions
People love to talk about themselves. When you’ve engaged in a new conversation, ask questions that invite people to open up. If you’re chatting with someone on a video meeting, take note of some of the items around the other person and ask what’s significant about them.
6. Be curious
Make time to embrace the “rabbit trails” as you explore. Curious about a setting or event in your fictional reading? Go talk to someone from that culture, or read in-depth articles to educate yourself. Want to know more about circumstances and experiences in a different neighborhood? Seek out community leaders who can inform and educate.
7. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable
We are wired to seek comfort and avoid change, but positive growth only happens through discomfort. As you seek new experiences, allow yourself to be uncomfortable, and grow through the discomfort. Look for ways to be the minority in a group, and take note of your experience when you are not the dominant voice.
Becoming an inclusive leader is not a “one and done” thing. It’s a lifelong process and journey that requires openness, flexibility, curiosity, and humility. By approaching new experiences with a willingness to let them change you, you will find yourself becoming a more inclusive leader—and a better human being.