One of the business imperatives that it is impossible to ignore as a leader is the growing need to be aware of, sensitive to and able to champion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). The global pandemic of 2020 and 2021 has if anything intensified this need. It was further underlined by campaigns such as the #metoo movement, which exposed widespread sexism in the entertainment industry, and the #blacklivesmatter campaign, which exposed the gross imbalance of police treatment towards black people in America after the death of George Floyd.
If you are a business leader, even with a good awareness of the issues facing diverse and minority groups, the whole area can still feel like a minefield. And if you have not been exposed to the issues facing those who are disadvantaged due to issues of gender, race, religion, sexuality or disability, then it can feel overwhelming and best left to others to deal with. Except, the only person who can make a real and lasting change in the area of DE&I in the business is you.
But how do you start? What if you make yourself vulnerable to ridicule? And how do you shift from being a leader who is very comfortable delegating tasks, to one that is willing to share personal and perhaps traumatic details about your life?
If these questions resonate with you, let me tell you that you are not alone. Despite billions of pounds being spend on DE&I in organisations globally, the benefits are very slow to trickle down beyond the platitudes shared in the glossy annual reports.
That is why I am tackling the issue in my third book The Inclusion Edge: Confidently create a culture that celebrates diversity and belonging. I bring over 30 years of business experience to these issues but also perhaps more importantly lived experience of being in a minority and being treated as insignificant (or worse).
The Inclusion Edge builds on the work and ideas shared in my second book, The Female Edge. I strongly believe that leaders can navigate this thorny path towards creating a culture of inclusion and belonging for all their people when they become aware and willing to address the inequalities that exist.
Most organisations, and I would expect yours is no different, will already have an extensive range of initiatives and activities to support their DE&I goals. This is a great start, but they are only springboards, from which you as a leader must take your steer and start to walk your own path. Your people will look to you before any HR representative or well formed DE&I statement, to see if what is being said is true. The Inclusion Edge has been written with you in mind.
I come at the subject of DE&I from my own unique experience. I was brought up in a working-class home, with a sister who had learning disabilities and Autism, an alcoholic father and an over-anxious mother. I left school with no qualifications and no prospects and little clue what I was going to do with my life. Knowing that my circumstances would hold me in this limited place, I left Birmingham and through hotel work found the love of my life and settled down to become qualified first in Social Work and then in Business.
My many experiences growing up in this inner city chaos have helped me to empathize with people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds as well as with the diverse issues around Disability. Yet my biggest ‘Exclusion’ experience, which helped me to understand the extent of the issue for countless people, was when I lost my home and my job as a result of coming out as lesbian in the late 1980s. This was not a time where there was tolerance around same-sex relationships, and losing your job because you were gay was not uncommon. Since then, I have experienced the typical sexism that most women recognise when they are in male-dominated industries.
These lived experiences inform and colour my views of the world of DE&I, but also spur me to help leaders around the world to become more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of others. And I have had the privilege in my life of working with some outstanding leaders as well as partnering leaders who struggle greatly in this area. As a result, I firmly believe that most leaders want to do the right thing, they want to inspire and develop their people and achieve outstanding results through cooperation. They just don’t always know how to do it.
My approach is simple: when we strip everything else away – power, status, role, religion, sexual identity – we are people who want to be valued, heard and understood. Whilst the habits and behaviours involved in achieving this may feel a little challenging at times, they are not difficult to attain. In fact, its surprising how little practice is needed to be very competent indeed in making deep connections with others.
I would love your help to craft the content in the book and make it fit for leaders across all industries. I have created a confidential survey and I'm asking for leader's to tell me their experiences in leading out in DE&I activities. Put your voice in the mix and let me know what would help you: https://www.questionpro.com/t/AFIvbZrDfm I'll be sharing aggregate results in a report, in a future blog and also in the book The Inclusion Edge. If you leave your details in the survey, you will automatically receive a free copy of the book (Due out September 2022).