Pandemic highlights the need for a more inclusive leader

Rockwell Automation knows too well the value of an inclusive leader during a pandemic, uncertain and unprecedented times

Inclusive leadership is more important than ever before to support colleagues who have been through a tumultuous year, said Maddison Anderson, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager at Rockwell Automation, speaking at a recent Automation Fair At Home event.

“Throughout the pandemic, issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion have been amplified,” said Anderson, as she led a discussion on this topic and others with her colleagues, Rachael Conrad, vice president and general manager, Customer Support & Maintenance; Eric Chalengeas, regional sales director, EMEA South Region and Gustavo Zecharies, regional vice president, Latin America.

The session Inclusive Leadership During the Time of the Pandemic explored how the pandemic has changed the way people work, the new challenges of being an inclusive leader in changing times, and what Rockwell Automation leaders have learned along the way.

Contingency plans

The challenges during the pandemic have changed for leaders as the situation progressed— from safety to remaining productive to the long-term implications.

In the beginning, “What I really thought about is ‘I’m not in this alone,’” Conrad said. “There is no playbook, so we have to figure out how to act and how to work. We acted fast but not impulsively. We had contingency plans for contingency plans, so really thinking about resiliency. I think we acknowledged what we couldn’t control and found new ways to connect and work and recognise great work, too.”

“From a business perspective, one thing that was worrisome in the midst of the first days of this pandemic was our ability to react,” Zecharies said.

“Looking back, I think it will be one of the things we remember and are proud of: how agile the company has been to adopt these new ways of working.”

Remote working situations have only magnified the need for inclusive leaders and fostering new environments where workers can be productive and connect with their coworkers in different ways.

Inclusive leader traits

“We know companies and organisations can’t add diversity to the mix of a team and expect that people will automatically collaborate, connect, resolve conflicts or innovate as a cohesive unit,” Anderson said. She then asked the panellists to highlight key attributes or behaviours of inclusive leadership that have helped them.

Chalengeas highlighted humility. “I’ve learned to lead with humility. For me, that means I don’t know everything. I need to ask questions. I need to gather feedback, to be empathetic,” he said. “It’s only by pausing, by listening to concerns that we can see the overall picture of the reality around us because we see it from a very biased point of view.”

Conrad highlighted an important difference between equality and equity. “One of the early learnings I had in my own leadership path was recognizing that equality and equity are not the same,” she said. While it’s not necessarily wrong to want to treat everyone equally, equity is the important part for leaders, she added.

Change in attitudes

Inclusive leaders also need to be aware of biases and understand how their own perceptions might frame their reality, the reality of others or work situations. COVID-19 has forced some into difficult work-from-home situations, and many leaders should and are recognising those difficulties.

Zecharies also sees some positive changes in attitudes about remote work in general. Previous to the pandemic, it might have been harder for remote workers to have the same presence as those in the office. “For those in remote situations, it’s difficult to have the same impact, whenever decisions are made or when presentations are made, whatever things are discussed,” Zecharies said. “That made it difficult to have an inclusive environment.”

Now, the requirements of working remotely have levelled that playing field a bit. “Being in an office is not that material anymore, and we have an opportunity right now for everyone to bring their voice pretty much to the same level. It may be weird, but I feel this has actually brought a more inclusive environment.”

Equality and diversity

The pandemic has also given a louder voice to equity and diversity in the workplace and beyond. Zecharies said recently more companies are examining social issues, diversity in their workplace and worldwide, and their own biases about productivity and work/life balance.

He said that seeing senior leaders speak out publicly about the nationwide social issues and unrest, to say “we condemn this situation, we are promoting space where everybody can do their best work, and that kind of behaviour we don’t want to happen inside the walls of Rockwell Automation” was an important shift for the corporation in its “role as a moral compass.”

Also, if productivity sometimes translated as doing more with less before COVID-19, because of the challenges faced through the pandemic, “the concept of personal productivity, as opposed to corporate, is gaining traction. People are much more sensitive to the way we’re spending time,” said Zecharies.

Now that vast workforce is at home working productively remotely, their level of tolerance for the office culture may have changed. “This is something we should recognise,” Zecharies said.

The generations of people and the talent that Rockwell Automation wants to attract past this pandemic situation may be sensitive about their time at home and work/life personal balance. “As a company that is based on keeping and acquiring the best talent available, we ought to be very vigilant about this area too,” Zecharies said.
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