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Yvonne Smyth

At Hays we are passionate about placing people in roles in which they can flourish and succeed, enabling people and organisations to fulfil their potential. 

That’s why we are proud to be a sponsor of the Lord Mayor’s Power of Diversity series: a series of breakfast sessions which offer fantastic, globally-applicable insights into how organisations can realise the power of diversity in the world of work.

I will be writing a number of follow-up blogs to these events over the coming months; this one will address the first topic in the series, that of ‘inclusive leadership’.

What is inclusive leadership?

In order to realise all the benefits that come with a diverse workforce (those which I outlined in my previous blog) you first need to establish an environment where the impact and value of ‘difference’ is understood, celebrated and captured through key influencers, change agents and organisational structures. You won’t be able to reap the full rewards of diversity unless you establish a culture of openness, championed by inclusive leaders.

So let’s look first at what we mean by an inclusive leader. To borrow a quote from one of the speakers at the event, Laure Fraval, Managing Director and HR Consultant at Citi, “Inclusive leaders are very good at getting the best out of all their people”.

Dan Robertson, Diversity and Inclusion Director at ENEI, developed this further, explaining that “Inclusive leadership is to be aware of your own biases and references, to actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision making and to see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage”.

As Dan went on to explain, whether knowingly or not, organisations generally hire people that look the same, sound the same and come from the same background. We are all guilty of making judgements on someone’s talent based on our views of how they appear, sound or behave – something Dan aptly termed the ‘The Susan Boyle Effect’. A focus on inclusive leadership aims to quash this unconscious bias; making your business diverse and, in the process, opening it up to all the clear benefits that come with diversity.

Essentially, if your business desires higher staff productivity, satisfaction and engagement then it needs to become more diverse, and in order to become more diverse you need inclusive leaders to inspire change from the top down.

Why should we care?

This is a key question that needs to be answered for all those looking to build a more inclusive environment. Liz Bingham OBE, Managing Partner at Ernst & Young, summed this up well in her remarks, referencing a direct correlation between company growth and serial innovation. The report cited observed that a company cannot serially innovate if it has ‘groupthink’, and concluded that diverse teams enable innovation but only when they are led by inclusive leaders.

Liz went on to say that while we all ‘get it’ intellectually, it isn’t until we really ‘feel it’ and ‘engage with it emotionally’ that we will make change on this agenda. Laure also mentioned being able to ‘feel’ a change in culture as a result of some of the actions they have taken in this regard; noticing a difference in conversations in corridors and how people interacted with each other.

What are the characteristics of an inclusive leader?

Here are the four most common qualities that identify inclusive leaders, taken from Catalyst’s ‘Inclusive Leadership: The View from Six Countries’ report:

  • Empowerment – Enabling direct reports to develop and excel.
  • Humility – Admitting mistakes. Learning from criticism and different points of view. Acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome one’s limitations.
  • Courage – Putting personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done. Acting on convictions and principles, even when it requires personal risk-taking.
  • Accountability – Demonstrating confidence in direct reports by holding them responsible for performance they can control.

There are also more specific actions, provided by Dan, which you should cascade through your organisation, and which your leaders should take responsibility for. Here are some suggestions:

  • Schedule meetings at times which ensure maximum participation
  • Invite everyone to contribute to discussions
  • Monitor who attends social events, and find out why some don’t
  • Allocate a challenging piece of work to someone you wouldn’t classify as a ‘high performer’
  • Have a coffee with someone who is very demographically different to you
  • Ask for the ideas and suggestions of others before giving yours
  • Create a culture where no one fears being ignored, side-lined or ridiculed for their ideas
  • Introduce ‘blind’ decision-making

For many more tactics and practices your leaders can adopt to become more inclusive, download ENEI’s report, ‘Inclusive Leadership – driving performance through diversity’.

How can we inspire inclusivity?

Now that you’ve established the qualities that you need to look for and foster in inclusive leaders, the next step is to put this knowledge into practice.

Laure Fraval spoke about Citi’s experience of looking to build a community of change agents, identifying people at executive level and further down the organisation who demonstrated the quality and ability to get the best out of their people – as Laure said, “It can’t stay in the boardroom”.  The core qualities around which they built a tool-kit were the ability to:

  • Relate – To go out of their way to relate to people
  • Adapt – To be able to adapt their style to their audience and not the other way round
  • Develop – To develop their people every day.

The tool-kit built by Citi was actively referenced and embedded through recruitment, on-boarding, promotion and management processes.

Getting buy-in from the rest of your team, and having them understand the importance of inclusive leadership, can be tricky, but it’s absolutely essential for success. Change agents can be found throughout an organisation, but a key element for sustained commitment and success is of course the leadership at the top.

Liz Bingham recounted a story of how she had to really change tack when addressing the leaders within her organisation in order for them to understand what it means to be excluded – for it takes “real conscious thought” from your leaders to grasp what it is to be an insider vs. an outsider. The example that Liz used for her senior managers – many of whom were privileged enough to have never felt true exclusion – was to ask whether any of them had ever been to a friend’s wedding alone. Instantly it clicked, and the stories of exclusion began to flow.

Laure waited for her the senior leaders to come to her. Instead of forcing them to participate in something they might feel was peripheral, she decided to wait for the most senior employees within the company to realise the importance for themselves, and to then approach her. As soon as they expressed an interest, she would then provide these individuals with a tool-kit of actions and suggestions which was made available throughout the organisation.

It’s important that you keep tabs on developments by holding regular performance appraisals with your leaders and encourage them to do the same with their teams – all the while acting upon the three broad steps in the previous section. You really need to be leading from the front to guarantee inclusivity is embedded in your recruitment and promotion criteria, management development and reward programmes, and cultural changes programmes.

Get the culture right and the diversity will follow

The building of a more inclusive culture needs to be routed in truly inclusive leadership, a shared vision, education and encouragement.  If you get the organisational culture right then the significant benefits that come from true diversity will follow.

I hope you have found the above advice useful. Here are some other diversity oriented Viewpoint blogs that may be of interest:

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