What makes an inclusive manager?

boardroom of diverse people, diversity, black inclusion, successful leader

In order to be truly inclusive, we must embed inclusive thinking into our behaviours, language, and environments.

At work, this involves how we speak to one another, how we act in meetings, how we support each other, and understanding bias. For managers, there are a number of key workplace dynamics to consider. The most significant are microaggressions, transparency, psychological safety, diverse recruitment, and fostering a sense of belonging.

Leaders and inclusion experts Elani Buchan, Helen Corbishley, Priya Radia and Sinead Daly, share their guidance for practicing inclusive management:

Elani Buchan, Head of Business Operations, Concured, and Venture Partner, Republic:

“In my first managerial position I thought the sole purpose of managing people was to get them to hit their targets, and all of our conversations revolved around that misguided notion. It led to mistrust, frustration, and burnout. As I evolved as a manager I learned, the somewhat obvious lesson, that I needed to see people as people. Everyone comes to work with some baggage, from small issues to long term difficulties. Once I was able to create an environment of trust, not only did we work better together, we were able to achieve the same targets. In short, being an inclusive manager is no different than being a good manager, it is about putting people first and when they have trust and confidence in you then you’ll be able to do your best work personally and professionally.”

Helen Corbishley, Consultant, Included:

“When discussing what one piece of advice I would put forward for informing and uplifting women in business,  my husband overheard. He immediately exclaimed “don’t forget, we want to be your ally.” To truly be inclusive we can look to share thoughts, experiences, challenges, and indeed vulnerabilities with others, and diverse groups of others, where possible. We are all empowered to do this, to create synergies and alliances, and to keep the understanding and conversation flowing.”

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Priya Radia, Consultant, Included:  

“The process of becoming an inclusive manager can feel quite overwhelming; frameworks often list large quantities of ‘competencies’ or ‘traits’ that can quickly become a tick box exercise. Start by making the time to really listen to your team. Feedback can go a long way in improving an understanding of individual needs, team dynamics, cultural differences, and what really matters most to the people around you. This can help you to tailor and prioritise your next steps in accordance with inclusive leadership best practice.”

Sinead Daly, Culture, Experience & Impact, Beamery:

“An inclusive leader is able to create an environment where their people feel they belong, are able to speak up and show up as they are. To make this a reality, it really requires an ‘inclusion-first’ mindset. We can often get caught up in the one-off initiatives that serve a tiny proportion of the people we interact with day-to-day, which can turn out to be low-impact and fairly performative. So, it’s important that leaders not only take a visible role in speaking up and acting as an ally, but also take a deep inward look at their every-day behaviours and interactions. We’ve all heard about microaggressions and the negative impact they can have one someone as they navigate the workplace, so adopting the inverse (microaffirmations) and by being intentional and authentic with their teams, leaders can really help their people thrive and feel connected.”

Vulnerability, empathy, listening, and active allyship are all key elements of truly being an inclusive manager. Bringing these traits to work each day can be challenging in the face of the pace of day-to-day work and the emotional energy they require. But, by developing ourselves as managers with inclusion in mind we can uplift and support others and play a part in making work a more meritocratic place.

Elani Buchan, Helen Corbishley, Priya Radia and Sinead Daly are all contributing authors to The Key to Inclusion, edited by Stephen Frost (Kogan Page, 2022).

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