An Inclusive Leader’s Mantra

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

In exploring our Inclusive Behaviours(SM), so far we’ve worked on the following areas:
  • exercising our empathy muscle so we can better understand those who are different from us
  • being a better listener to invite the contribution of different perspectives
  • being aware of and mitigating our own biases in the workplace so that we can be more meritocratic
  • understanding our personal values so that we might understand the values of others
  • being  humble and vulnerable in order to create a trusting bond with others in our teams
  • valuing their different perspectives even if they are vastly different from ours
  • using inclusive language so that others can begin to feel a sense of belonging.

Now that we know what to do and how to do it, it’s time to invite others to follow suit by speaking out.

This responsibility falls first and foremost on leaders.  Team and other leaders set the tone for culture; what they say goes – even if they don’t realise it. As Simon Sinek has said, when a leader speaks, a whisper becomes a shout.  The words leaders use and the things they do have a massive impact on whether others take Diversity and Inclusion seriously or see it as just a box ticking exercise.

I want to share with you a few themes that each leader should be addressing on a regular basis in the workplace:

 1.    It IS broken!

Managers often hear from others (and sometimes think themselves) that their businesses and teams are doing well, that there is no need to fix what’s not broken.

Of course, it would be fine to believe this if things were to remain static.  But we know that organisations and society are evolving and changing at an unprecedented pace.

Just think about these examples:

  • 5 generations in the workplace
  • a smaller and closer world than we’ve ever had
  • an over-abundance of information at every person’s fingertips
  • complex political, economic and legal environments that make transactions enormously complex
  • a change in how society perceives work and life
  • a large and highly educated workforce emerging from India and China.

This level of change requires teams that are prepared to embrace unpredictability and global trends.  Are you sure your team is ready?  Do you have the relevant diversity to address unpredictable and quickly moving challenges?
The team might not be broken, but it isn’t fixed either.  It almost certainly needs more diversity and more inclusion, so it can be better prepared for the future.  Can you afford to stay static and do nothing?

2.    It is hard! But what worthwhile quest isn’t?

Another common theme leaders will hear is that Diversity and Inclusion is too hard!  It requires so many changes on how we behave, how we work with each other, how our processes work.  In some cases, even the very business model doesn’t lend itself to greater diversity and inclusion.

It’s difficult to argue with this.  That said, what leaders should remind themselves and others of is the fact that many business changes are hard, like a new computer infrastructure or a reorganisation, an acquisition or divestment of a business.  Yet the fact that these things are hard to achieve were never good enough reasons to abandon a worthwhile change.

Just like any other important – one might even say, game changing – venture, Diversity and Inclusion cannot be set aside on the basis that it is difficult to implement, or that it requires sacrifice and change that our workers are simply not prepared for.  It’s up to the leadership to set the tone for this change and ensure that everyone gets behind it if that’s the right direction of travel for the organisation.

3.    There are more advocates and champions for D&I among us than there are nay-sayers and  detractors.

Let’s face it.  We humans like to focus on the negative.  No matter how many compliments we receive, if there’s one negative statement among them, that’s the statement we will dwell on for hours, even days.  Our brains are wired to focus on the negative more than the positive – it’s one of our many cognitive biases.  This is also true when it comes to hearing negative views about Diversity and Inclusion.  But the reality is, when we look at the entire population of our workforce, we notice that the nay-sayers are lone voices these days.  and statistically speaking, we expect 15%-20% of the population to disagree with any change management proposition!

If we focus on this small minority, we can be derailed and distracted from our purpose and mission.  Therefore, as leaders, we must focus on the other 80% that still needs us to show them how to do this right, to believe in us and see us clear the way for greater diversity and inclusion.   We also need to make it clear to our peers and colleagues that the group of people who speaks out against the change is marginal; that most people understand and want to embrace this change and that, perhaps when they see others embrace it, the negative minority might engage with it too.  But, irrespective of that, the change and the journey must go on.  We cannot hide from the future, and the future demands a different approach to humanity and to business.

It’s important for leaders to advocate on behalf of Diversity and Inclusion frequently and regularly.  Leaders need to be able to communicate the business priority of Diversity and Inclusion in the same way as they would communicate a new strategy or mission. Without this mantra, D&I strategy will not succeed.

It goes without saying that leaders must first understand all this and know what to say, when to say it and how to address cynicism and objections.  These are important aspects of any good D&I strategy.  Have you been speaking to your fellow leaders about it?