The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be achieved globally and by all UN member states by 2030. The focus is on three dimensions, sometimes also referred to as the three Ps: Profit, People and Planet. A responsible company develops strategies for all three areas. The social sustainability dimension of a company includes acting fairly and ethically and complying with legislation relating to human rights, working conditions and discrimination.

Inclusion as a Prerequisite for Social Sustainability

This includes not only the company’s own employees, but also its suppliers and other stakeholders. Many companies start with the responsibility for their employees as an important starting point for the dimension of social responsibility. Within the organisation, this means creating a positive working environment that promotes diversity, inclusion, professional development, and psychological safety. Knowing the needs and the realities of employees’ lives is central to this.

And this is where leaders come in: they play a crucial role in shaping and promoting an inclusive culture in an organisation. Their leadership qualities and behaviour have a decisive influence on how diversity and inclusion are perceived and implemented.

A Culture That Includes Everyone

Inclusive leadership creates a culture where everyone feels they belong. If I am seen, accepted, and heard as a person with my needs in a team and feel I belong, I will likely be more engaged than if I am treated as a number, outsider, or token. If I am valued, there is a positive error culture and learning is encouraged in the team, then I will achieve more than if scapegoats are put up against the wall.

If derogatory behaviour is addressed by managers, they act as role models and let everyone have their say in meetings, I will achieve more than if inappropriate or sexist behaviour is dismissed with a joke. If there is psychological safety, talent is ageless, I am trusted with responsibilities, and promotion processes are transparent, I will be more engaged than if stereotypes cloud the view of employees’ potential. Inclusion thrives on leaders’ engagement. They make the difference! But how is inclusion implemented and measured?

“What Gets Measured, Gets Done”

This quote from Peter Drucker also applies here too. Inclusion includes a culture of inclusion, inclusive processes and structures and inclusive leadership behaviour. It is therefore not enough to set a quota for women in leadership. A culture of inclusion can be measured using validated employee surveys and target values for managers can be derived accordingly, which can also be linked to a bonus. Inclusive processes and structures require careful analysis and the involvement of those affected. This can be done via focus groups or interviews. New target processes can then be defined in joint workshops – e.g. for adapted recruitment or performance appraisal processes that are as unbiased as possible. It is essential that assessment criteria that reward inclusive behaviour are incorporated into these processes.

The same applies to inclusive leadership behaviour. Research in this area is still in its early stages, but inclusive leadership is straightforward. As a manager, for example, I make sure that everyone has their say in meetings, that I intervene quickly if I observe derogatory behaviour, etc. This requires managers to engage with the topics of inclusion, diversity and fairness and to undergo continuous further education.

Inclusion Will Make the Difference in the Future

Inclusion as part of corporate social responsibility is a smart move. Companies that are seriously committed to inclusion not only set an example of social responsibility, but also create the basis for long-term success. Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace strengthens competitiveness and has a positive impact on employees, customers, suppliers and society as a whole. However, it must also be measured if cultural change is to be taken seriously.

About the author(s)

Portrait Gudrun Sander 246

Prof. Dr. Gudrun Sander Director Competence Centre for Diversity and Inclusion

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