Managing, Leading & Personal Effectiveness

Leaders: The culture of inclusivity comes from the top

True inclusivity isn’t just about including people at the table, it’s about including them, hearing them and making them feel comfortable to fully contribute, says Steve Rouse. And this can only be achieved if leadership leads from the front.

A number of years ago, I was delivering a diversity and inclusion (D&I) programme for senior execs at a leading high street bank. At one point, one of the execs put their hand up.

"Steve," he said, "I’m really enjoying today, I think it’s a great course – don’t get me wrong – but do we really need this at [X bank]? I think we’ve pretty much got diversity and inclusion sorted."

One of his colleagues gave him a withering stare. "Have you looked around this room? Everyone’s white, everyone’s male, everyone’s over 50..." He paused. "Just out of interest," he asked, "put your hand up if you went to a public school."

All the hands went up.

Major events such as the rise of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, and the recent tragic murder of Sarah Everard, have shone an increasingly harsh spotlight on equality, diversity and inclusivity. It’s an issue that challenges us all. It’s a moral issue, an ethical issue, a reputational issue and a bottom-line issue – research shows that inclusive and diverse organisations are more successful (Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, 2012).

What is "inclusivity"?

Over the years that I’ve been involved in diversity and inclusion training, I’ve seen the terminology evolve – from "equal opportunities", to "equality and diversity", to "diversity and inclusion", etc.

This reflects a shift in society’s attitudes. It’s become less about legal frameworks and more about people – how we relate to each other and enable everyone to play a full part in society and organisations.

There’s no one definition of inclusivity. I like to think of it as:

  • creating an environment in which everyone is valued and engaged as a full member of the community, and
  • a sense of belonging, feeling respected, valued for who you are, feeling supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best work.

One thing is for sure: it goes beyond the equality, diversity and the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010:

Leaders and inclusivity diagram Steve Rouse blog

True inclusivity isn’t just about "being at the table", it’s being at the table and being a full participant in what’s going on around that table.

What can I do as a leader to promote inclusivity?

Leaders have a key role and influence in terms of the culture and values of their teams and organisations. Without clear, values-based leadership from the top down, experience and evidence suggest that it’s difficult to shift the culture.

To drive an inclusivity culture, leaders need to lead from the front. Research by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Titus shows that "what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether individual reports feeling included" (HBR, 2019). Leaders need to show:

  1. Visible commitment
  2. Humility
  3. Awareness of bias
  4. Curiosity about others
  5. Cultural intelligence
  6. Effective collaboration

Inclusive leaders lead by example and one of the ways they do this is to recognise their own biases and the need to change and learn. If they can’t be open to change in themselves, they can’t expect others to change.

I once worked with a major energy company on another diversity and inclusion programme. Their aim was to make challenging D&I issues as acceptable and as commonplace as challenging health and safety issues. In this company, anyone at any level felt comfortable with challenging the CEO if they were walking downstairs without a lid on their coffee cup. They wanted the same for D&I.

It’s got to start at the top – if the organisation’s leaders don’t lead the way, both by being trained, by demonstrating the right behaviours, by challenging themselves and by being willing to be challenged, then the change won’t stick. When leaders make the change, others are more likely to follow.

Want to know more?

QA has a comprehensive suite of people skills courses that can help your organisation drive forward its diversity and inclusivity agenda, including:

We can also develop bespoke solutions to meet your organisation's individual challenges at all levels.

So talk to us and start your journey towards true inclusivity today!

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