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Building a smarter business through inclusive leadership
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are two terms that are often used to describe a single business strategy but actually mean two very different things. In order to build a truly diverse and inclusive working organisation, as a leader, it is crucial to understand this difference.
So what is inclusion? At our 3rd Page Executive Women in Business event, held in Birmingham in March 2018, Dan Robertson, Director of Vercida Consulting and Sheri Hughes, UK Director of Diversity and Inclusion at PageGroup, discussed the complexities of D&I with an engaged audience of female executives from around the region.
What are the differences between D and I?
Today, while many organisations have a D&I strategy, there tends to be a significant focus on increasing the diversity of a team whilst potentially overlooking the inclusivity of the work culture. Diversity is about the differences among the talent within your business. This not only means gender, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation but also refers to the thinking style, personality and social backgrounds of those you employ.
Discussing how inclusion is distinct from diversity, Dan explained: “Inclusion is, to what extent do you value the people who are different in your organisation and to what extent do you respect their views and opinions? But more importantly, inclusion is to what extent do you actively leverage the skill sets of talent which are different in your organisation? What we do know, is that if businesses want to be successful, they have to have this dual approach: ramping up levels of diversity and inclusivity at the same time.”
Sheri described the relationship between D and I similarly, commenting: “Inclusion is all about the feel. That’s where it becomes much more about the culture itself, about the environment that everybody’s working in, about a real recognition that difference is valued and embraced, and supported, and that people can bring their whole selves to work and that’s not a problem.”
Commercial benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce
Businesses that employ professionals who look, think and act alike are at risk of Groupthink, or siloed thinking, something which Dan explained leads to an inability to connect to the global marketplace. The global marketplace is uncertain, turbulent, complex and diverse. Businesses operating in this marketplace have two key assets - their customers and talent pool. These assets, as Dan describes, “are and will continue to be, increasingly diverse.” Businesses can utilise a diverse and inclusive work culture to reduce Groupthink, and increase innovation and creativity to better navigate the challenges of this ever-changing marketplace.
However, it has been found that not only do diverse and inclusive organisations benefit from increased innovation and productivity within their teams but individuals operating in such an organisation have also be found to be significantly more motivated.
“Analysis shouldn’t necessarily just focus on the numbers, i.e. diversity and inclusion make us more profitable,” Dan explains. “We know that inclusion, in particular, makes people happier and that makes them perform to a greater extent than they otherwise would.”
What is an inclusive leader?
This was a hot topic of debate and a conclusive definition can be very subjective. However, Dan believes that inclusive leaders are inherently able to “reflect on themselves” and actually be open about the fact that they don’t have all of the answers. He continued to say that “an inclusive leader is somebody who actively wants to connect with difference. Those that go out of their way to give a voice to people who traditionally wouldn’t have that in an organisational context.”
Those who listen to different opinions, are open and transparent, possess a high level of empathy and emotional intelligence – self-reflect and the ability to connect with difference – are more likely to be inclusive leaders. As a leader it is important to reflect on your own biases, discuss them and encourage your employees to do the same with the aim of overcoming them when making decisions.
Dan believes that in order to move the agenda forward he would encourage all leaders to “step out of their comfort zone and actively connect with people who are different from them. Are they attending, for example, BME network events or women’s network events, LGBT network events? Stepping out of their comfort zone for the purpose of connecting with difference and what that does is build their cultural competences.”
He also highlighted that it is important to ensure processes and decision making are fair. To do this, and eliminate biases from these areas, Dan suggests business leaders question whether stretching work is allocated in a fair way. When thinking about talent development, he also recommends leaders question whether they are actively sponsoring and mentoring people who are different from themselves. He concluded with the old adage that “what gets measured, gets done.”
Setting a target or having an organisational agenda for diversity and inclusion that is made publicly available, will ensure transparency throughout the organisation and motivate the wider business to actively achieve them. In order to become a truly inclusive leader, Dan believes we need to let go of the traditional definition of a leader and be much more collaborative in our approach.
If you would like any more information on this topic or to discuss how we can help with your executive search requirements, please get in touch with Helen Schwarz for a confidential discussion.
Director, Page Executive
T: +44 121 634 6927
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