Scholars have increasingly recognized the importance of leaders in workplace inclusion. To date, leader inclusivity has been conceptualized as a relational approach that builds an equally shared sense of group membership among employees while fostering an appreciation for the unique value of each individual. Yet, broader systems, norms, and practices in organizations can also elicit exclusion. Through an inductive investigation of leader inclusivity, in a sample of 47 minority-identified employees in STEM organizations, we find that leader inclusivity was perceived as centering on leaders’ actions to combat inequitable systems, norms, and practices. Further, because these equity-oriented actions were thought to be controversial in nature, we find that such actions provoked adversarial responses from employees who are invested in the status quo. In turn, we reveal that leaders must also manage these responses effectively, in order for inclusivity to be sustained. Taken together, and departing significantly from current conceptualizations of leader inclusivity, we find that minority employees view leader inclusivity as a set of pathways which are each set in motion via leaders’ actions to combat inequity. Our results inform a more processual, systemic, equity-based approach to studying and practicing leader inclusivity.
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