Diversity and inclusion is always a hot – and important – topic in leadership, and rightly so. This week I share a guest post from Zoe Dryden, Managing Director and Owner of leadership training and facilitation programme, Second Base. Like me, Zoe works as an executive coach and lives in sunny Nelson. She’s also an all-round awesome person and this post is sparked by a great conversation we had. Have a read…
I’ve worked as an executive coach, strategist and cultural change agent for many years and recently entered the realm of governance. Across that time, one of the clearest things I can see is that it’s very rarely the deliberate intention of people in positions of influence to create working environments that burn out their employees, obstruct women from senior leadership roles or create bias against diversity.
Yet their intentions aren’t often matched with their leadership style and behaviour. And unfortunately, their style and approach is what ultimately has an impact, despite the fact that their heart might be in the right place.
Looking to yourself first
There is good news here, because it means the creators of these obstructions also fundamentally want things to change. However, there is challenging and confronting work to do because leaders often can’t see how their style – which is so normalised, rewarded and often commended – is the cause of the problem. It’s hard to ‘see what you can’t really see’. And despite what else is going on, the reality is that, as the leader of the team and the one with hierarchical power, you occupy the role with the most influence. You need to start there first and commit to being one of the leaders that truly drives change.
Ask yourself: are you willing to do the work on yourself to see what you can’t see and change your habits and style to make positive change?
Another example in action
Being a woman with a successful track record in business in male-dominated industries, I was often asked to ‘represent’ the female viewpoint. I’m often included as a ‘diverse viewpoint’ or a ‘wild card’. Although these requests may be well-intentioned and meant as a compliment, they are actually part of the problem. My viewpoint is not wild or diverse and nor is it necessarily representative; it may simply differ from theirs. Furthermore, I’m being asked to help tackle misogyny, which simply isn’t fair. These colleagues may have good intentions, but they are taking woeful shortcuts.
Moving towards a solution
It would be great if there were a ‘magic bullet’ – one or two simple changes that could increase the diversity of viewpoints within an organisation and create a culture that better empowers its employees. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realise that such a shortcut does not exist.
There is not one simple formula that can be applied. Each leader needs to examine how they, individually, feed the existing biases and dynamics.
- What sort of hours are you keeping and modelling?
- Are there constant last-minute deadlines and changes made to jobs? Or shortcuts made when it comes to upfront planning and preparation?
- Are you trying to run too fast? Or supporting an outcome-centric focus?
- What sacrifices are you making at home?
- Are you fostering the growth in confidence of those around you?
- Are you comfortable asking someone to explain further when you don’t understand a viewpoint they’ve expressed?
- Are you really, truly listening? Are you able to tone down your busy mind to pay full attention to what others are saying?
- Who is in your social networks? Are they different from you? And would you be equally open to employing any one of them?
- Have you examined the subtle terminology that is habitually used throughout the organisation for possible prejudice?
All of these things can contribute to preventing positive cultural change in organisations.
The good news is that within you is the most accessible and effective place that you can start to affect change. As a leader, you are the greatest lever you can pull. Being willing to do the work to change how you lead and to eliminate old and unhelpful habits and behaviours creates an immediate, ripple effect of difference.
It’s not your job to be a ‘high-performance’ individual, or the smartest person in the room. Your role is to be a leader in the truest sense of the word and take responsibility for the breadth of influence you have, both internally and externally, in your organisation.
It’s the people that most want change to happen that can do it. They’re the ones who will make it important and put in the self-work. Because it doesn’t come down to reading a book, appointing a certain demographic to the board, or implementing a particular policy or process. It’s what YOU do.