Equity in Leadership: Fostering Fairness and Inclusion

    Equity in Leadership: Fostering Fairness and Inclusion

    My favourite bias is the “I’m not biased” bias, in which people believe they’re more objective than others. The less time we have to think and challenge our assumption making brain, the harder it can be to see your own limitations.

    I’m not biased,” we’re all too quick to say. Actually, not true! It doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just how human brains work. We are all susceptible to these blind spots. All 188 or more of them! It’s in our caveperson hardwiring. Biases aren’t something you can just spot and then throw in the trash once and for all – although that is where they belong.

    These biases are like a monkey on your back, regularly stopping you from making the right choices. The only way to get rid of that monkey is to grow our self-awareness of ourselves as assumption-making machines, and actively work to see and understand things from a different perspective.

    In the last three articles, we’ve discussed how Clarity, Autonomy, and Relationships are the foundational ingredients for building high-performance teams. The final component of the CARE equation? It’s E – Equity. The WANT. It’s what pulls the WHAT (Clarity), the HOW (Autonomy), and the WHO (Relationships) together.

    Let’s talk about the E for Equity of CARE. Specifically, equity in leadership.

    In my new book, I define equity in leadership as providing the right amount of resources and attention to people based on their needs.

    Why Equity Matters in Modern Leadership

    Equal is not equitable. People get confused, and it’s an easy mistake to make, but a mistake, nonetheless.

    Think of Equality as dividing up the pie into same-size portions, so everyone gets an equal piece. Thing is, that doesn’t actually equal fairness – or usefulness – because people’s needs are different. Think of Equity, on the other hand, as slicing the pie slice according to the needs and wants of each individual. Those slices will taste sweeter.

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    Think about dieting. Everyone has a different body, and the no two organs are the same. Not everyone responds to a diet the same way. Some people’s body rejects certain foods, while others lose weight with the same food intake. There is no one size fits all standardization of anything when it comes to humans. Every human is different. We don’t all respond in the same way to the same approach.

    Fostering equity in leadership also means tailoring your approach to give people resources and attention in the way they need and want it. Leadership equity puts your team at cognitive ease as they are being treated how they would like to be treated and the brain gets what it needs without triggering the threat circuitry. Creating equitable workplaces helps you pull out their best performance.

    Perceptions of being treated unfairly are a major reason people quit their jobs (Pew Research). But perceptions of a fairer [sic] employee experience improves employee performance by up to 26% and employee retention by up to 27% (Harvard Business Review). It’s up to leaders to create that sense of fairness every day.

    It’s not easy or natural to change our thinking; to learn to give people what they need instead of what you want to give. This is where E goes back to R.

    When you get to know your people and what’s going on in their lives, and are open to feedback and change, checking your biases at the door, those deep connections – that are essential to ensuring equity in leadership – can form. That’s the key to creating equitable workplaces that service every person, so the whole team wins.

    Equity really is the gauge for higher performance. The more fairness a team feels, and the more they will step up and help each other, and you, out. The more they get what they need, the more intrinsic motivation you trigger. Treat them all the same, and someone somewhere will feel left out. That feeling of unfairness will trigger disgust in their brain, and you run the risk of them becoming that actively disengaged employee. That person will rip a team to shreds.

    Inspirational Moments: Equity's Place in CARE

    In my book, I share personal insights and experiences – ‘Alexamples’ – that underscore the decision to prioritize Equity in the CARE framework.

    One of those leadership equity Alexamples is about a member of my DX team, Abigail. She thrives on Clarity, and having expectations clearly outlined. Unlike me – I thrive in ambiguity – Abigail’s brain needs Clarity to be at cognitive ease. Neither of us is right or wrong.

    But as the leader, it’s my job to know Abigail and treat her how she wants to be treated. It’s my job to overcome biases and assumptions, and focus on equity and inclusion, to give her the Clarity she craves to be successful. I give her more than I am comfortable with, because that is the right thing to do!

    In my book, I also explore key equity in leadership biases, like the Default effect bias. When presented with a choice, we tend to pick the default option without thoroughly examining the context and implications. This is anti-equity and inclusion thinking.

    I used to give every team member a thirty-minute check-in meeting with me every week, a choice I’d seen other managers make. In my eyes, that was fair to give an equal amount of my time, energy and resources. But it wasn’t working. It was actually triggering the threat circuitry in their brains. Some people needed no time, or just five minutes. They were thinking, “Doesn’t he trust me to do my job?” or “What a waste of time.” Some people needed an hour or more, and were thinking, “Aren’t I important enough to merit more of his attention?” I wasn’t delivering leadership equity.

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    Equity's Impact on Team Wellbeing and Performance

    We learned the concept of equity thousands of years ago. The hunters needed more nutrition than other tribe members. One banana for each person wouldn’t be fair. Giving hunter gatherers more meant they’d have more energy to bring back more meat. It helped everyone – as a collective – to win. Fostering equity in leadership is about big-picture thinking instead of our default knee-jerk selfishness.

    In the modern workplace, the same rules still apply. Adaptive, inclusive leadership is about consistently tailoring your time, energy, and attention to individual needs, for the benefit of the entire team. Does that new team member or someone working on a high-profile project need a bit more of your time? Can you help someone going through some personal issues to lighten the load? Not everyone wants to be rewarded in the same manner, but are you rewarding and critiquing everyone equitably and consistently?

    Human instinct is self-preservation. Leadership is team preservation.

    Imagine having a brain that craves Clarity and enjoys working within boundaries, then joining an Alex culture that thrives on experimentation, open-endedness, and working with few parameters. You’d be feeling lost. You’d be pulling your hair out every day.

    But in a culture of equity and inclusion, you’d be given the level of Clarity you need to feel safe. An employee who only needs a few guardrails gets enough Autonomy to excite them. An employee who doesn't feel comfortable sharing every detail in their life knows they don't have to do so to feel a sense of Relationship.

    Psychological safety in leadership comes from every team member feeling a sense of fairness and a sense of being met where they’re at. When you treat people how they want to be treated through inclusive leadership, they feel valued and safe to be their authentic selves. They can capitalize on what makes them unique and contribute fully. Psychological safety in leadership sets them up to be high performers.

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    Reflecting on Equity: My Leadership Evolution

    I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot along the way about the importance of fostering equity in leadership.

    Remember those 30-minute meetings? Now, there’s no one-size-fits-all template. We have monthly “check-ins” with no time limit. I just ask folks, What’s on your mind right now that would be useful for us to talk about? What’s something you need from me that will empower you to be successful? What is motivating you right now? If people don’t want to talk, that’s okay!

    CAREing leaders are able to recognize the power of biases, and they work toward countering them.

    C + A + R > E = CARE

    YOU complete the equation. Done consistently, over time, equity in leadership leads to fairness. Fairness leads to psychological safety. Psychological safety leads to a fair, inclusive culture where everyone on the team has a voice and leaders listen to it and harness those voices to create higher performing teams. Once you have CARE in place, the sky is the limit.

    Bottom line: fostering equity in leadership drives organizational success. Pre-order my book now for insights into creating equitable workplaces and inclusive leadership.

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    FAQs

    How is Equity integral to effective leadership?

    Equity in leadership ensures that resources, time, energy, and attention are distributed according to individual needs. When people are treated how they want to be treated, it creates an inclusive environment where everyone thrives and wins – individuals, teams, and leaders.

    What strategies can leaders use to foster equity?

    Fostering equity is achieved by really getting to know team members, what makes them tick, what inspires them – and tailoring your approach to individual needs, actively countering biases. It creates a culture of openness and inclusion, where everyone feels valued and respected.

    How does prioritizing equity affect team dynamics and psychological safety?

    Prioritizing leadership equity creates a sense of fairness and psychological safety. It allows team members to feel safe in being their authentic selves. This helps them contribute fully and authentically to the whole team's success.

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