From Compliance To Commitment: The Power Of Inclusive Leadership

Cultural change can’t happen without first winning the hearts and minds of everyone in the business.

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I recently read an article from the excellent Fast Company Magazine titled “What happened to companies’ commitment to DEI?”

The author suggested that companies never took their DEI efforts seriously in the first place, and now everything is seen as simply a ‘compliance exercise’.

I’m sure there are some firms who didn’t quite believe in DEI at first. However, having had the privilege of working with many businesses on their inclusion efforts over the last few years, our experience has been quite different. The businesses we have worked with have all had good intentions when it comes to creating an inclusive culture.

We certainly did see a sharp spike in DEI efforts following the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020; postings for DEI roles increased by 123% in that summer alone. But now we are seeing Chief Diversity Officers underfunded, overworked, and having the shortest tenure of all C-Suite positions.

Why is this happening?

One of the primary reasons for the reduction in diversity work is an overemphasis on data and numbers. While it is important to measure progress and set goals, too much focus on metrics can lead to a narrow view of what diversity and inclusion truly means.

Inclusion is not just about ticking boxes or meeting quotas; it is about creating a culture of belonging where everyone feels valued and supported.

To achieve this, we need to move beyond the numbers and focus on building relationships, listening to diverse perspectives, and taking meaningful action.

There has also been a reliance on universal ‘diversity’ training that fails to make a real impact. Cultural change can’t happen without first winning the hearts and minds of everyone in the business. Positive, empowering storytelling is a much more powerful tool to create a culture of empathy and understanding. Hearing a story of a painful moment puts you straight in the shoes of someone else and gives you a new experience to draw your own conclusion from; an hour in a diversity seminar is not going to give you the same.

Perhaps the biggest challenge faced in businesses is that a lot of the inclusion work being done is all management and no leadership. To truly make progress with an inclusive culture, we need strong leadership at all levels of the organization. This means CEOs and executives must get fully behind inclusion, not just paying lip service to it in annual reports or press releases.

It means creating a culture where diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords, but fundamental values that guide decision-making and behaviour. And it means empowering employees at all levels to take ownership of inclusion initiatives and hold themselves and others accountable for creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

While the current trend of reducing inclusion work may seem discouraging, there is reason for hope. The fact that companies are investing billions in DEI-related efforts is a clear indication of the recognition that diversity and inclusion are critical to business success.

This is still a growing area for business; there is no one way to do inclusion that will fit everyone. It will take time, but we will make the progress we imagine. Let us remember that true progress in inclusion requires not just data, training, or management, but leadership that is grounded in empathy, understanding, and a deep commitment to belonging.

Tips for being an A player:

  • Be open to feedback.
  • Prioritise connecting with others and building relationships.
  • Communicate authentically; don’t say what you think people want to hear.
  • Seek out perspectives that are different from your own.
  • Create an environment where your colleagues feel safe to speak up and speak out.

Thought for the week:

Leadership is harnessing the power of difference to drive success.

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