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Inclusive Leadership

The View From Six Countries

Is “inclusion” a universally understood concept. Do employees in Germany and the United States, for example, interpret the word inclusion differently?

In 2012 Deloitte’s research report “Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve organisational performance” identified the impact of inclusion on organisational performance in 3 Australian workplaces, how an inclusive culture can be measured and the critical role played by senior leaders and managers. The question left hanging was: were the findings applicable in workplaces outside Australia? That question and more has been answered by recent research from Catalyst, the leading not-for-profit think tank on gender diversity.

In essence the critical question up for discussion was: is “inclusion” a universally understood concept. Do employees in Germany and the United States, for example, interpret the word inclusion differently? Do men and women understand the concept differently? If not, it means that interventions to create a more inclusive workplace can be universally applied.

To answer these questions, as well as the impact of inclusion on employee performance, Dr Jeanine Prime (Vice President and Centre Leader, Catalyst Research Centre for Advancing Leader Effectiveness) and Elizabeth Salib, (Senior Associate, Research, Catalyst) conducted research in six very different countries, namely Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States. Their report, entitled “Inclusive Leadership: The view from six countries” found that, with the exception of India, inclusion is universally understood to mean the simultaneously but distinct feeling of individual uniqueness (i.e. a person feels distinct from others) and group belongingness (i.e. similarity to others), and this definition is accepted by men and women. The Catalyst findings replicated Deloitte’s insofar as they also identified the relationship between inclusion, productivity and innovation, as well as the impact of leaders’ behaviours and employees’ feelings of inclusion, but Catalyst has added new value by identifying which aspects of leaders’ behaviours make a difference.


The aim of the research was to better understand the concept of inclusion across six countries and in particular, the impact of inclusion on employee performance in terms of innovation and team citizenship behaviours. It also sought to identify the leadership behaviours that contribute to the inclusion experience, whether understandings of inclusion vary between cultures, or indeed between men and women.


The research involved a survey of 1,512 employees across six countries (Australia, China (Shanghai), Germany, India, Mexico and the United States). Around 250 responses were obtained from each of these countries. Each respondent was at least 22 years old and worked for a company that had more than 50 employees such as Deloitte LLP, IBM and Deutsche Bank AG. The final sample comprised an equal representation of men and women.

Survey respondents were asked to report on their “experiences of inclusion within their workgroups”, “the leadership behaviours of their managers” and their team citizenship and innovation behaviours.


Prime and Salib’s primary findings relate to the universality of inclusion, the organisational outcomes of an inclusive culture and the drivers of inclusion.

1. Universality : Catalyst found that across most countries in the research sample (i.e. with the exception of India), and between men and women respondents, there was a “common language of inclusion”, meaning that a sense of inclusion is almost universally understood and therefore efforts to improve inclusion apply across geographies and diverse employee populations.

2. Outcomes : Catalyst examined whether feelings of employee inclusion improved product innovation (by employees engaging in behaviours to identify “opportunities for new products and processes and trying out new ideas and approaches to problems”) and productivity (through “team citizenship behaviours such as offering to help colleagues with heavy workloads, picking up responsibilities of absent colleagues and volunteering assistance to one’s manager”. Catalyst concluded that “the more included employees felt, the more innovative they reported being in their jobs” and “the more they reported engaging in team citizenship behaviours”, in particular:

  • Innovation: Catalyst found inclusion contributed, on average, 42% to employee’s innovative behaviours, with the range from 19-22% in Australia, the USA and Germany to 51-78% in Mexico, India and China
  • Team citizenship: Catalyst found inclusion contributed, on average 46% to employee’s team citizenship behaviours, with the range from 29-43% in the USA, Germany, Australia and India to 60-71% in Mexico and China.

3. Drivers : Catalyst identified what and who makes an employee feel included, and some variations by country, namely:

  • Belongingness, uniqueness and inclusion. With the exception of India, across the five countries Catalyst identified a relationship between belongingness, uniqueness and inclusion, namely “employees felt included when, simultaneously, they perceived they were both similar to and distinct from their co-workers”. In particular, a sense of uniqueness comprised, on average, 21% of an employee’s feelings of inclusion (ranging from 19-24% across the five countries) and belongingness comprised on average 30% (ranging from 27-32% across the five countries). Further, the universal need to belong to a group and simultaneously to feel unique within that group is not a gendered concept and held true for both men and women. The exceptional findings in relation to Indian men and women are discussed below, but suffice to say Indian respondents did not view uniqueness and belonging as distinct concepts
  • Leadership behaviours and employees feelings of inclusion. Across Australia, China, Germany, Mexico and United States feelings of uniqueness and belongingness could be predicted by four leadership behaviours (i) empowerment i.e. “enabling direct reports to develop and excel”; (ii) humility i.e. “admitting mistakes. Learning from criticism and different points of view. Acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome one’s limitations”; (iii) courage i.e. “putting personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done. Acting on convictions and principles even when it requires personal risk taking”; and (iv) accountability i.e. “demonstrating confidence in direct reports by holding them responsible for performance they can control”.

Catalyst called these attributes: “altruistic” leadership and found that both male and female employees of altruistic leaders felt a greater sense of inclusion through uniqueness and belongingness. In particular, on average almost half (46%) of an employee’s sense of uniqueness was driven by altruistic leadership (ranging from 32-47% in Mexico Australia, German and the USA and 71% in China) and 39% of an employee’s sense of belongingness (ranging from 24-39% in Mexico, Germany, the USA and Australia, and 67% in China)

  • Culture and the impact of leader behaviour on employees. As noted above, amongst the Indian respondents uniqueness and belongingness were not seen as distinct concepts, meaning that when one the Indian respondents were treated as unique it signalled that they belonged to the group. This is a different frame of reference to the other five countries in which being seen as unique can put belonging at risk, hence inclusion is the combination of both. An additional finding relates to the disproportionately positive impact altruistic leadership has on Chinese employee’s feelings of inclusion (71% of uniqueness and 67% on belongingness), compared with the other countries.


The Catalyst research tells a clear story of altruistic leadership driving employees’ feelings of uniqueness and belongingness (inclusion), which are distinct concepts in five of the six countries studies. Further that inclusion drives a substantial proportion of team citizenship behaviours (46%) and innovation behaviours (42%) across all of the six countries.

Whilst being perceived as unique and yet similar to a group is almost universally understood, difference do exist in India (where the concepts are two sides of the same coin) and China (in which altruistic leadership has a very powerful impact on inclusion.

Finally, Catalyst’s findings in relation to the critical leadership behaviours which drive inclusion, namely empowerment, humility, courage and accountability, provide guidance on the areas for focus in terms of leadership development, accountability and reward.

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