Leading the way to diversity & inclusion

content leadership diversity

What makes a good leader? Is it defined by notions of strength, courage, charisma, natural ability and capacity to inspire? Are people born with it? Is it unlearnable? Are good leaders ‘good guys’?

The Center for Good Leadership found that leaders consistently possess 10 core leadership skills:

  • Integrity
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication
  • Self-awareness
  • Gratitude
  • Learning agility
  • Influence
  • Empathy
  • Courage
  • Respect

As a foundation for good leadership, this list of qualities is hard to argue with. But is it enough in an era in which we know more needs to be done to make workforces and workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive?

Perhaps the list needs expanding for today’s leaders and those of tomorrow. Our iconic notions of leaders and heroes rarely alters despite changing environments and contexts. But they’re going to have to if research from Deloitte is anything to go by.

In the six signature traits of inclusive leadership, the authors posit that while predicting the future in a precise manner is a risky undertaking given our increasingly volatile and complex world, there are four unwavering global megatrends reshaping business and our environments:

  1. Diversity of markets
  2. Diversity of customers
  3. Diversity of ideas
  4. Diversity of talent

Notice a theme here? For organisations to prosper in the long term, a diverse approach is required. And everyone has a role to play, believes Natalie Trice, a PR coach and university lecturer, from senior leaders and frontline staff, to new employees and even external consultants.

‘It is vital that every individual can see and understand their role in a company’s culture, and this means identifying differences in employee experience and values so that each person knows, and feels, that they belong and are accepted as they are, no questions asked, no discrimination at play and no divisive culture or practises that create difference,’ she says.

Leadership should be a beacon

While it’s true that everyone pulling together in the same direction with a clear shared vision is vital to creating such a culture of change and inclusion, leadership needs to be the pilot and the navigator.

Furthermore, for this form of leadership to genuinely affect change, it needs to be more than a ‘box ticking’ or management exercise, it needs to be made fundamental to an organisation’s fabric so that leaders embody it.

Diversity and inclusion can be viewed as an initiative that is rolled out by HR and it’s a “nice to have”, but if real change is to happen, every leader needs to buy into the concept of everyone belonging in the business and, when they do this, diversity and inclusion can not only happen, but also thrive,’ says Trice.

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‘Rather than a statement that is rolled out across the board, make sure that those in leadership positions really understand what the organisation is looking to create in its ethos and practices, and then ensure they can explain this, that they know why this matters, why it matters to them, but also why it matters to those they work with and manage.’

Leaders too can be great resources of understanding and compassion, given they’ve had to fight their way to the top and likely have their own ‘war stories’.

‘The top people in a business might feel comfortable in their skin today, but there will have been times when they felt bullied, excluded or shamed, and identifying with these feelings could help them to start to see why diversity and inclusion is so important and why they are key to leading change and progression,’ says Trice.

Deloitte’s six signature traits

Deloitte’s research found six signature traits of an inclusive leader:

  • Commitment: inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion because they believe in the objectives on a personal level and they believe in the business case
  • Courage: they have the courage to stand by their convictions and challenge the status quo, while also being humble about their strengths and weaknesses
  • Cognisance of bias: they are mindful of their personal and organisation blindspots and capable of self-regulating to ensure ‘fair play’
  • Curiosity: they are open-minded and have a desire to understand how others view and experience the world, and a tolerance for ambiguity
  • Cultural intelligence: they are confident and effective cross-cultural communicators
  • Collaboration: they empower individuals and create and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

Amalgamating these with the aforementioned 10 more traditional qualities forms a potential blueprint for a very modern leader.

Change comes from the top

But it can’t rest on the shoulders of individuals to make this happen. Organisations need to proactively develop an inclusive leadership. Here, the Deloitte report suggests several areas and actions:

  • Strategic alignment: make inclusive leadership a core pillar with an organisation’s D&I strategy; articulate why this is critical to business success; make symbolic workplace changes
  • Recruitment: job adverts emphasise inclusive leadership capabilities and organisation’s D&I commitment; inclusion features in behavioural interview questions
  • Capability and competency management: integrate inclusive leadership into organisation’s leadership competency model
  • Performance management: KPIs linked to inclusive behaviours and D&I outcomes; ensure senior level appointments are committed to and embody inclusive leadership; accountability for leaders’ non-inclusive behaviour
  • Rewards and recognition: reward leaders who role model inclusive behaviours; internally highlight highly inclusive leaders and the benefits of their behaviour
  • Leadership development: formalise inclusive leadership via assessment, identify gaps and create development plans; encourage informal feedback among leadership
  • System integration: integrate inclusive leadership into global mobility strategy to develop current and future leaders; consider how inclusive leader and D&A fit into innovation strategy.

Author: Neil Johnson

This article was first published in Student Accountant in July 2021

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