13 things diverse and inclusive leaders don’t do

Diverse and inclusive leaders are building start-ups and organisations of the future.

They are courageous, forward-thinking and innovative. They put their people first. And they are not afraid to be uncomfortable today in order to build a sustainable business of tomorrow.


1.     They don’t let the fear of the unknown stand in the way of building a truly diverse and inclusive company culture and organisation.


2.    They don’t expect to be an expert in diversity & inclusion-yet. But they are curious, committed and have a growth mindset. They can see where they are on the learning curve and work with an executive coach or a diversity & inclusion expert to accelerate their learning.


3.    They don’t pay lip service to diversity & inclusion nor do they regard it as just another box-ticking exercise. There is no doubt in their mind that building a diverse & inclusive organisation drives financial performance, innovation and sustainability. To ignore it is to risk the future of their business.


4.    They don’t give up ownership or consider diversity & inclusion to be someone else’s problem. They lead by example. They make it their mission to transform their organisation into becoming truly diverse & inclusive. They also recognise that if their employees do not feel welcome: if they do not feel safe, if they do not feel heard, if they do not feel valued, or if they are pushed out because they are different, it is their job to fix a culture problem.


5.    They don’t avoid making difficult decisions or delay having uncomfortable conversations-even if this involves top performers or very senior staff members. They hold everyone to the highest standard-regardless of their status or tenure in the organisation. They have a zero-tolerance policy. Explicit values of Respect, Openness, Equality, Fairness, Transparency and Flexibility underpin the ethos of the organisation.


6.    They don’t hide their mistakes or remain secretive about their ‘failures’. They are not afraid of getting things wrong. They recognise that every experience is an opportunity to learn and are always open to feedback. They share their learning with their peers. They recognise they must be held to account and so they publish their organisation’s diversity & inclusion policies and data on a regular basis.


7.    They don’t wait for government regulation or activist investors to dictate their approach to building a diverse & inclusive organisation. They avoid being reactive nor do they wait for a PR disaster to strike. They proactively look at how to accelerate the pace of change. They give the same attention to diversity & inclusion as they do to digital transformation or AI programmes. People are their business.


8.    They don’t expect anything to change unless diversity & inclusion is a strategic priority for the business. They set clear targets and tie managers’ compensation to diversity metrics. They have buy-in from their executive team and managers to drive change inside their organisation. They foster internal champions and evangelists.  On-going education, mentoring, sponsorship and training is provided as part of a company wide ‘upskilling’ programme.


9.    They don’t consider unconscious bias training or a diversity network to be the solution to building a diverse & inclusive organisation.  They apply the same data-driven approach used in product development to identify where to focus efforts, track progress, measure real impact and continue to learn and iterate.


10. They don’t expect change to happen overnight but there is an urgency about introducing structural changes which will impact human behaviour. They co-design from the bottom-up to ensure they are building or rebuilding an organisation and a culture where everyone can do their best work on their own terms. They are proactively looking at ways to flatten the hierarchy. Organisations of the future are open, collaborative, distributed, transparent and agile. They understand that their business is constantly evolving and adaptive.


11.  They don’t ignore the resistance or the indifference to building a diverse & inclusive organisation. In fact, they actively seek it out. They identify how the resistance manifests and plan for how this resistance can be transformed. This is effective if individuals work with a coach to examine their fears and understand what and how they stand to gain from the change. This effort needs to line up with the strategic priority of the organisation.


12. They don’t keep quiet about the transformation that is required, the progress they are making, the challenges they face, what everyone stands to gain and why diversity & inclusion is so important to them. They constantly share their vision for the organisation of the future and why and how they will succeed. Good leaders live and breathe this every day.


13. They don’t underestimate the importance of #MeToo and #TimesUp. They consider this a clear signal that to do nothing is simply not an option.