Be curious – about leadership, diversity and inclusion

How can we help leaders to work more inclusively and to develop more diverse workplaces? That was the question Jo from Animate and Oonagh from Down to Earth explored on a snowy day in February. What were the three things they identified? Read on to find out…

In our work we aspire to be better than the sum of our parts. We talk about how important it is to have different perspectives, and how we have to fight the temptation just to employ people ‘like us’.

The best teams are the ones where people with radically different views can – in a spirit of true collaboration – constructively challenge and build on one another’s ideas. We believe this, and also know how hard it is to make it real in our teams and in our own lives.

We all know that when people can bring more of who they are to their work, they are more satisfied and more fulfilled. Their organisations are also more innovative, more flexible and ultimately more productive. Are you curious about what might be possible in your organisation?

Our discussion started with the gender pay gap and where we saw that in our work, across all sectors. Will our daughters be more confident in their abilities and more willing to put themselves forward than we, our sisters and our mothers have been?

We also spoke about how energising we find all the bright, young people we know. How hard will it be for them to get their voices heard in the organisations they join?

Oonagh spoke about her experience in organisations traditionally dominated by middle class white men. Many of these are embracing younger men and women from a far wider range of backgrounds: BAME, LGBT+, and other cultures of origin. They’re doing this not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they won’t survive unless they do it.

Jo told of a friend who was lectured by her male boss on how well he listened to women. She talked of a female dominated organisation in which a man in a senior leadership role was effectively silenced by the strength of the female dominated relational culture.

We began to wonder how we, in our work with leaders in organisations, can help co-create environments that encourage, engage and value difference in all its forms. How can we help encourage people to come, give their best, and stay? How can we create a vibrancy and engagement that becomes the pulse of an organisation?

We got quite excited at the possibilities.  We also realised from our conversation that we see diversity and inclusion as an organisational culture challenge and as such a leadership challenge.

However, conversations about changing organisational culture can feel overwhelming and difficult. It can be hard to know where to begin.

So, what might leaders find valuable who want to work more inclusively, and who want to create more diverse workplaces?

We came down to three things:

  1. 1. An enhanced personal capability to explore unconscious bias. In what ways do I exclude some people and privilege others? When we recognise that we are part of something ourselves we can start to make different choices
  2. 2. An ability to get genuine feedback. We need to start the kind of conversations that prompt people around leaders and their organisations to help leaders “see ourselves as others see us.”
  3. 3. The skills that encourage honesty and contribution. Leaders need skills in running meetings in ways which encourage people to be honest about what they think. They need to listen to others, surfacing the assumptions which are often never spoken about.

It sounds simple, but lots of organisations are getting stuck because none of the above is happening.  So maybe simple – but not necessarily easy – is the best place to start.

We started putting together a leadership programme to promote inclusion and diversity – and then we stopped ourselves. Because, if we are practising what we preach, we should be doing that together with the people who want it.

Still curious? Then get in touch…