Catalyst training: “From unconscious bias to inclusive leadership"

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Unconscious bias is hardwired into humans but, unless controlled, can negatively impact the working environment. To counter it, inclusive leadership is essential.

Unconscious bias affects individuals, teams, and organizations. When an individual instinctively prefers somebody “familiar” to them, and expresses it with words or even decisions, then that is unconscious bias. It can relate to gender, age, ethnicity, professional training, and more. Whatever the bias, it can create barriers to inclusion, engagement, innovation, and ultimately performance.

On Tuesday, February 16, the GDI Function organized the first of five webinars for 50 senior CGIAR managers, collectively called “Leading for Equity and Inclusion”. The webinar series is run by Catalyst, a global non-profit working with some of the world’s top CEOs and leading companies to build workplaces that also work for women.

“We may be wired to have unconscious biases, but we don’t have to accept them,” says Caroline Pickard, who ran the first webinar – Unconscious bias to inclusive leadership – “We need to be aware of them”.

Participants for the webinar connected from all around the world: Australia, Benin, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, India, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, the United States, and more. They lead diverse and multicultural teams.

“Leading people is hard enough when people are from the same culture,” says Fiona Farrell, CGIAR’s Senior GDI Advisor. “But CGIAR has 10,000 people from 135 nationalities in 108 countries.”

“And for everybody to reach their full potential, we need inclusive leadership.”


All staff should aim to be aware of their unconscious biases and work proactively to adapt. But leaders have a special role in making employees feel included, says Caroline. This means that employees feel: 

  • Valued: Employees are appreciated and respected for their unique perspectives and talents;
  • Trusted: Employees make meaningful contributions and are influential in decision-making;
  • Authentic: Employees can bring their full selves to work and express aspects of themselves that may be different from their peers;
  • Psychologically safe (latitude): Employees feel free to hold different views and to make mistakes without being penalized;
  • Psychologically safe (risk-taking): Employees feel secure enough to address tough issues or to take risks.

Almost half of an employee’s experience of inclusion can be explained by managerial or inclusive leadership, according to Catalyst research.

“This is a huge percentage, and it shows just how important your role as a leader is in fostering a feeling of inclusion among your employees,” says Caroline. She outlines the six traits of inclusive leadership:

  • Curiosity: Proactively seek to understand different points of view.
  • Humility: Take ownership for mistakes and learn from missteps. Don’t assume that everybody has the same approach as you. Seek feedback.
  • Courage: Stand up for your convictions or values, and act accordingly, even if that means taking personal risks or causing discomfort. Discuss missteps and mistakes. Learn and to self-reflect.
  • Accountability: Set clear and measurable goals; hold team members responsible for their behavior;
  • Ownership: Guide team members to solve their own problems and make their own decisions;
  • Allyship: Actively support people from under-represented groups. Interrupt biased behaviors. Amplify the voices of under-represented or unconscious groups. Engage with employees about the realities of bias and encourage others to do the same.

Being inclusive is complex. It takes time to create a really inclusive team where trust is distributed more equally. And that is one reason why we fall back on our biases so easily. But the benefits of inclusive leadership are worth it:

  • Team problem-solving: employees have more positive views of how their team works together;
  • Work engagement: Employees feel an emotional investment in their work and company mission;
  • Employee intent to stay: Employees are more likely to stay with their organization;
  • Employee innovation:Employees are more able to generate new ideas, processes, and approaches to achieving goals.

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