Inclusive Leadership: 6 Characteristics Deans Can Promote at Their Schools

inclusive leadership for education

Inclusiveness is more than diversity. Higher ed systems were built for a different time. In addition, institutions of higher ed were not meant to give everyone access to education. Still, often faculty does not symbolize the diversity of the student body. Today’s leaders, using inclusive leadership, can retrofit colleges with a mindset of inclusion, diversity, and equity. Here are six attributes that leaders can promote at their schools.  



Still, inclusion can be a fuzzy concept. So, leaders must ask hard questions to move the school towards inclusion. A clear vision lets deans set goals that make changes that last. In addition, a clear definition helps everyone to fix systems and policies, to promote inclusive mindsets and behaviors. Yet, leaders must be watchful not to make changes that highlight the marginalization of those they mean to target. Therefore, institutions can easily mistake definitions such as quotas, tokenism, assimilation, and erasure as inclusive leadership. 


Relationship-Building for Inclusive Leadership 

Likewise, a dean’s leadership circle reaches into the communities inside and outside their school. Inclusive leaders build across real and imagined boundaries. Their responsibilities include reconciling the interests of many. Besides that, a dean will understand a range of people, groups, and communities. Schools that reach into the neighborhoods do more than fill a college pipeline. Deans get to co-lead with residents and businesses to support the community. Programs that serve underserved communities create opportunities for everyone. 



Still, higher ed leaders must learn how to identify exclusive and privileged policies in the institution. Faculty training can address current understandings and fears. Leadership development involves building capacity, authenticity, and expertise across the board. For inclusive leadership, deans understand their current work environment; meanwhile, they must understand how to improve it. Systems thinking can be shared with the rest of the staff. Besides that, leaders point out blind spots, so everyone recognizes them.


Show Courage for Inclusive Leadership 

Inclusive leadership speaks easy. Yet, inclusive leadership is hard to embed in daily practice. Positive mindsets highlight diversity and inclusion as a boon rather than a loss. Most importantly, inclusive leaders foster a shift from a culture of lip service to one of practice. Deans shape the narrative for their institution. A narrative shift takes courage. Besides that, leading through the change takes commitment.



Likewise, inclusive leaders commit to change. Deans make it their responsibility to learn to see through the lens of diversity and inclusion. Then, leaders spread this knowledge to others. First, leaders need to commit to change. Then, deans commit to creating an environment where it is safe to speak up. Commitment is tiresome and hard to maintain long term. Besides that, the institution will fight to return to the old ways. Leaders must drive change through this tendency.


Use Cultural Intelligence to Drive Inclusive Leadership

Likewise, deliberate efforts can identify, understand, and eliminate all subjective experiences of oppression, humiliation, and degradation. This point can be contentious on several fronts. For example, college art collections can be reviewed for misrepresentation. Besides that, leaders can examine the lens of many different cultures to ensure all stories are being told. Also, deans can review stories being told in the classroom by faculty to make sure they accurately represent the student body. 


In sum, diversity and inclusion efforts are worth the effort. A clear vision lets deans drive the change throughout their organizations for inclusive leadership. Leaders partner with communities to retrofit the institution. Deans are careful to ensure changes do not create more barriers. Likewise, inclusive leaders have the courage and commitment to drive the results through the organization.

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