Abstract: Inclusive Leadership to Address Discrimination and Improve Retention in Child Welfare: Examining Multiple Pathways (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Inclusive Leadership to Address Discrimination and Improve Retention in Child Welfare: Examining Multiple Pathways

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Qi Zhou, MSW, Doctoral Student, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Annette Semanchin Jones, PhD, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Jangmin Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

Leaders play a critical role in improving retention of the child welfare workforce (Griffiths et al., 2020), yet leaders’ impact on workforce retention may vary depending on their leadership styles (Park & Pierce, 2020). One leadership style, inclusive leadership, refers to efforts made by leaders to increase employees’ feelings of belonging at their agency while valuing all types of diversity and opinions (Randel et al., 2018), an approach that also has the potential to address workplace discrimination (Simons et al., 2015). This study aims to examine the direct impact of inclusive leadership on child welfare workers’ intent to stay in their agency, as well as its indirect impact on intent to stay by affecting workplace racial discrimination. As inclusive climate proves to be a significant predictor of workforce retention in child welfare (Katz, Julien-Chinn, & Wall, 2021), this study also attempts to explore the moderation effect of inclusive climate on the proposed pathway.


The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) conducted a baseline and a follow-up Comprehensive Organizational Health Assessment (COHA) survey in its second round of sites to measure organizational health of child welfare agencies. This current study utilized data drawn from the follow-up COHA survey, focusing on a sample of participants identified as child welfare caseworkers (n = 1979) and supervisors (n = 490). Subscales to measure the variables of interest in this study were drawn from the 340 items of the survey (Leake et al., 2021), including inclusive leadership, inclusive climate, racial workplace discrimination, and intent to stay in a current agency. The proposed moderated mediation model, explaining a pathway from inclusive leadership to intent to stay, was tested using the PROCESS program in SPSS with 5000 bootstrap samples.


Inclusive leadership appeared to be a direct protective factor for increasing child welfare workers’ intent to stay in their current agency (b = .229, p < .001) and decreasing their self-reported workplace racial discrimination (-.227, p < .001). However, workplace racial discrimination was a direct risk factor for reducing the intent to stay (b = -.085, p < .001). The direct effect of inclusive leadership via workplace racial discrimination was significant (b = .019, 95% CI = .008 - .032). Furthermore, an inclusive climate significantly moderated the association between inclusive leadership and the intent to stay (b = .040, p < .05). Probing analysis showed that the positive effect of inclusive leadership on the intent to stay was significantly strengthened as the inclusive climate increased.


Findings from this study indicate that inclusive leadership might be an effective strategy to increase child welfare workers’ intent to stay, as well as decrease workplace racial discrimination. The impact of inclusive leadership on workers’ intent to stay was also strengthened when workers perceived the agency climate to be inclusive. This supports other recent scholars (Shore, et al, 2021) who suggest leaders need to pay particular attention to building and sustaining workplace inclusion, creating a climate in which workers feel they belong and are valued for their unique contributions.