5 top tips for leaders to keep the National Inclusion Week momentum going

Leaders play an important role in making inclusion and diversity live and breathe in your organization. Our MD Corporate Services, Rupert Moyne, looks at how we can engage leaders with I&D and shares his top tips for leaders to help them drive your inclusion agenda forward.

Are you all having a great National Inclusion Week? Is it the culmination of a year of great inclusion initiatives within your organisation? Or is it the beginning of your inclusion journey, or maybe you are just testing the water?

I was very much inspired by listening to Steve Murrells, CEO at Co-operative Group, this year’s headline sponsor for National Inclusion Week. At our opening event on Monday, Steve talked about how taking part in National Inclusion Week over the past five years has led to an amazing range of activities at the Co-op and how inclusion remains his top priority alongside realising their vision and continuing to develop great products and services.

There’s some interesting stats in this report from a survey of 2,200 HR and business leaders across Europe by Workplace providing a snapshot of progress being made by organisations. The report summarises that for organisations surveyed the outlook is positive. The majority of respondents said that their executive teams understand the importance of ED&I and have invested in the infrastructure to develop it. However, the report reminds us that ED&I is a journey, not a pitstop.

The role of leadership in inclusion & diversity

Whatever stage you are at in your inclusion journey, the role of leadership in inclusion & diversity (I&D) is super important. Sometimes though, I&D professionals find it can be a challenge to engage leaders unless their leaders can see the link between the issues they are facing and how creating a more inclusive organisation can help solve them.

Once on the inclusion journey, often leaders understand they have a role to play but are unsure how best they can help and/or feel at sea because they are not confident talking about inclusion. In the last 18 months, many leadership teams have realised that their organisation increasingly want them to speak up and take the lead in inclusion, but as leaders they do not feel equipped to do so.

Our Inclusive Employers members’ survey earlier this year cited the discomfort of managers and resistance from company leaders as barriers to positive I&D change (26%).

My advice is to treat it like any other key corporate objective which is serving your mission and set structures around the objective including outcome measures but be ready to learn and be surprised – more on that later!

Engaging leaders with inclusion

Giving an understanding of the business benefits of inclusion is a good place to start when engaging leaders. The key benefit of course is, ultimately, having a more successful organisation, achieving current key business objectives (financial and otherwise) and understanding the potential that inclusion can bring to do even more. For instance, McKinsey produced a report correlating the benefits of greater gender and ethnic diversity within leadership teams with profitability.

As well as these kind of outwardly demonstrable benefits of inclusion there are many internal benefits which it is worth identifying by looking at your internal corporate challenges. Ask yourselves how inclusion action could help overcome these challenges. Examples could be shortage of skills, staff turnover, lack of staff engagement or commitment to organisational culture, or even lack of product innovation. As a leadership team, spend time identifying the current and future challenges for the business and how inclusion can help with these is a good conversation starter!   Remember Bruce Tuckman’s forming–storming–norming–performing model of group development. This is the stage of forming the group interest.

Before moving the team onto the storming stage, they will need some initial familiarisation and confidence-building around I&D, perhaps through one of our inclusive leadership sessions.

The storming stage will come when the group can grasp the possibilities inclusion offers to solve their problems and open new doors. This will be when ideas are developed and a plan is made. Norming comes with making inclusion business as usual for the team and the organization, so setting structures and integrating inclusion into key business activities and governance (mainstreaming). Performing is next!

5 top tips for leaders

Events such as National Inclusion Week bring the topic of inclusion to the fore and they are great way to demonstrate your commitment to inclusion through your participation with your team. The momentum that can be achieved within an organisation by National Inclusion Week is also a great launch pad for new inclusion initiatives or commitments by the leadership team.

My top tips for leadership teams wanting to harness the power of National Inclusion Week and drive inclusion forward in your organisation are:

1. Strategy

Incorporate inclusion into your organisation’s strategic objectives and create a golden thread where it becomes integrated into your organisation’s DNA. For example through cascading initiatives to departmental business plans and appraisal targets. Make sure your operational processes are reviewed and are inclusive. Sign off an I&D action plan with clear lines of responsibility and ambitious but realistic targets.

2. Role modelling & accountability

Be visibly inclusive. Wear the badge! Ensure senior leaders each have a role to play in your plan and are part of the lived experience of inclusive leadership. Make your exec team accountable to the board for inclusion. Talk about inclusion at every opportunity.

3. Resource I&D

Allocate suitable resources to successfully deliver your inclusion action plan.

4. Listening

Understand what the issues are and check if things are improving. Talk to leaders in other organisations about their experiences and progress with I&D.  

5. Celebrating

Make the journey fun. Celebrate achievements, be part of events, acknowledge and reward success.

How Inclusive Employers can help

Well, I would say this but… organisations have found the support we offer across the board very helpful at all stages in the journey.

For leaders there are some things we offer which stick out as particularly valuable:

  • Partnership Membership of Inclusive Employers – As well as the usual range of benefits the Partnership level membership comes with 7 days consultancy which can be used to support I&D professionals and leadership teams alike as the team progresses on its journey.
  • Inclusive Employers Standard – our accreditation scheme provides a great way to get a confidential third-party evidence based assessment of where you are on your journey and provides feedback that will be helpful in developing or reviewing your inclusion approach by identifying some quick wins and some longer term actions. Undertaking this regularly on your journey will enable you to evidence the progress you are making. Look at the 6 pillars of the Inclusive Employers Standard and use these with your I&D leads as a basis for your I&D action plan.
  • Inclusive leadership development – this is perfect for providing support for boards and executive teams regardless of what stage you are at in your inclusion journey.

I hope that National Inclusion Week has enthused you to do more – that is one of the main reasons we set it up. Here at Inclusive Employers, we talk about making inclusion an everyday reality and that is our aim. Do make it yours. I wish you every success!