Srabani Sen: the four actions you can take today to become a more inclusive leader

Most people accept that diversity and inclusion are good things. But how do you go about being more inclusive? Here are four things you can do today:

1.Develop more diverse networks

ALL of us are driven by unconscious bias. We instinctively feel more comfortable with people like us. It is human nature. But research from Oxford University into racial diversity shows that the more we come into contact with people who are different from us, the more tolerant of difference we become.

Look at the people around you: colleagues, friends, family, the people you engage with regularly on social media. Now ask yourself, “how different are they from me?” If the answer is “not much”, brainstorm five ways to include people in your life who look different, think differently, are older/younger, have different political views, come from a different culture – you get the picture.

The more you engage with people who are different from you, the more 'normal' difference will feel, which in turn will affect how you manage and include difference at work.

2. Invite challenge

The next time you are solving a problem or making a decision, ask your team to pull apart your thinking, find the flaws or come up with different ways of approaching it from you.

“But I’m a team player,” I hear you cry, “I always involve teams in discussions.” Trust me – that is not the same thing. If you are in a leadership role, there will always be a power dynamic at play, even if you are unaware of it. Whether that’s about people feeling less able to challenge you or just leaving the thinking to you because you are the boss.

Asking people to actively challenge your thinking can be uncomfortable, but it will almost always lead to better solutions. The important thing is to allow yourself to be influenced by different ideas and then act on them. If you invite challenge and consistently ignore it, soon, people will stop sharing their thoughts.

3. Listen – no really, listen

Be honest. In discussions, are you truly listening or waiting for your turn to speak? Do you listen to others to work out how to dismiss their points or how to convince them you are right? Do you prefer to talk to people who agree with you? Or, heaven forbid, do you interrupt people before they’ve finished speaking?

Next time you are in a conversation, step out of yourself and observe what is going on in your head. Are you really listening? Or are you formulating responses, distracted by other thoughts, or feeling that heat in your head when someone says something you disagree with? If you catch yourself doing anything other than purely listening, stop and refocus all your attention on what is being said. This takes practice, but with time you will become a much better listener.

Let’s face it: we all know when someone is smiling, nodding but isn’t listening to us. Do you really want to be that 'someone'?

4. Say thanks

Thank people who challenge you and tell them how they changed your thinking. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know, and they may not share their killer ideas quite so freely in future.

You know this already: when people feel included, they feel valued. If they feel valued, they go the extra mile. You win, they win, your organisation wins. Pure and simple.

Srabani Sen is CEO and founder of Full Colour and chair of 38 Degrees and The Winch

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