How to be an inclusive leader in 10 steps

How to be an inclusive leader in 10 steps


Inclusive leadership – A 10-step guide from our CEO Jane Farrell

With the need to create a more inclusive culture high on the agenda of many different businesses this year, here are ten quick-fire tips on how you can champion diversity and inclusion as a senior leader wherever you work.


1. Be positive

I think equality, diversity and inclusion is one of the most exciting areas of work to be involved in. But the discussions around diversity can too easily be negative.

Inclusive leaders aren’t naive about this fact. Instead they choose to approach the challenge with creativity and positivity.

So find the good practice. Then develop a costed plan that fits with your strategic plan and values, and that will deliver measurable results.


2. Build your own narrative

People recognise when we really believe in something. And they can also spot when we are saying something because we’ve been told to mention diversity and inclusion in a staff briefing.

Think through why you’re passionate about inclusion, personally and professionally. Demonstrate that it’s impossible for you to be excellent at your job without understanding how advantage and disadvantage can play out – in relation to your staff, clients, customers and service users.

This will help others think about how they can be more inclusive in their work, day in, day out.


3. Get the basics rights

Compliance around equality, diversity and inclusion is the law, after all. Here in the UK, everyone needs to know their legal responsibilities under the Equality Act, and business leaders especially.

Yes, inclusive leaders make sure everyone has access to the information they need, but they also take steps to build the capacity of their staff to see how the legislation is directly relevant to their everyday work.

If your staff don’t think through indirect discrimination, for example, they might post a job ad that inadvertently includes criteria that block or exclude certain groups of people. And that’s bad for business.


4. Get your hands on the data

The best-performing organisations have the diversity data analysis in place to tell them which staff groups are less engaged, which are leaving the organisation when you don’t want them to, and which customers or end-users are unhappy about the service received.

To be an inclusive leader, you’ll also need to get to grips with the hidden cultural codes in your workplaces, and the patterns of who gets what and why. Then use the data to take the necessary action to positively address those patterns and the inequalities they produce.

5. Focus your efforts

If you’re limited by time or resource, focus on these three areas: performance management, recruitment and selection, and service delivery:

Inclusive line managers know how to work effectively with cultural difference and when to have those difficult conversations when needed.

Inclusive hiring managers are aware of the potential impact of unconscious bias on the recruitment process, and they know precisely how to counteract it.

And the most inclusive leaders are always thinking about how well you deliver services to different groups, whether that relates to age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and so on.


6. Respond right if you get it wrong

We will all get it wrong sometimes when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion. In other areas of organisational life, this happens, we acknowledge it, learn from it and change what we say and do next. It’s exactly the same here.

Be a role-model: show you are working on getting it right and that you take this responsibility seriously. Recognise that on occasion you’ll need to say, ‘I got that wrong, I’m sorry, I’m going to do X to make sure that doesn’t happen again.’ And move on.


7. Weave diversity and inclusion into everything you do

Just as one example: no strategic plan can be successful without evidence that you’ve thought through how it will promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

In the same way, a bid shouldn’t be taken seriously without identifying how a potential provider will address inclusion in, for example:

  • How it plans to deal with the gender pay gap
  • How much it pays its lowest-paid staff
  • How it trains its staff to deliver to diverse groups of customers or service-users
  • Which job opportunities it offers to young people from different backgrounds.

Daily micro-behaviours also matter. Who do you say good morning to? Who do you praise and encourage? People notice.

8. Identify your agents of change

Too often the good work being done on diversity and inclusion is invisible. Make sure everyone knows how these brilliant people are making your organisation better.

Thinking through how to reward them for their efforts is fun, too. Get creative.

9. Shout about the good practice

It’s all too common for people in the same organisation not to know the fantastic work that their colleagues are doing on building a more inclusive culture at work.

Try giving one or two people the responsibility to search out and write up these case studies. Then distribute them for everyone to see.

10. Be confident and competent

Inclusive leaders make a positive difference when they really feel confident and competent about diversity and inclusion. But like any other management skill, it takes work to build this confidence in ourselves and others.

And we need to stay ahead of the curve, to know what other organisations are doing, to have difficult conversations when needed, and to create a culture where everyone knows being great at inclusion isn’t an option – it’s required.

Learn more about how we can support you to cultivate an inclusive culture in your business

Jane Farrell is the co-founder and Chief Executive of EW Group. She is a specialist in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, organisational change and cultural adaptability. Jane has vast experience in diversity consulting and training, specialising in working with senior management teams to improve individual, team and organisational performance. Jane has delivered large-scale diversity programmes for our high-profile client base, including London Underground which at the time was the UK's largest diversity management programme of its kind. Sign up to EW Group's monthly e-newsletter for industry updates, case studies, exclusive event invites and more!

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