Intentional Inclusive Leadership

Fiona Daniel is a diversity and inclusion consultant and an experienced HR professional with a range of experience in blue-chip financial services companies. Fiona came in to talk to me about her take on inclusive leadership as both an opportunity for developing everyone in the workforce and for self-improvement too.
Photo of Fiona Daniel

My guest this week is Fiona Daniel. I’ve known Fiona for quite a while now, and really like her experience implementing diversity and inclusion within large organisations. Fiona spent a large part of her career working at HSBC and she’s also a non-executive director for several organisations.

One of the reasons why I wanted to get Fiona on this show was because when you partner with a diversity consultant like Fiona or myself, it’s important that the consultant understands how to operate within businesses, particularly large organisations, where there can be a lot of bureaucracy or internal politics. Knowing how to have that internal influence and bring about change within an organisation is vital and Fiona has got stacks of that experience.

I started our conversation off by asking Fiona to tell me a bit more about her professional experience?

‘There’s not much to add to that lovely introduction that you gave me, Toby. Yes, I spent quite a number of years at HSBC doing a range of roles, from a front-line retail bank, going into the commercial bank, then moving into HR, specifically into learning and development. I then moved again into the broader world of diversity and inclusion in the global space for a few years, and then I was supporting and heading up our employee networks. I then became an internal consultant supporting the core functions and business areas and then I became the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the UK bank. So that was my time at HSBC.

Before HSBC, I used to work for two other financial service organisations – the Halifax and the old Abbey National which became Santander. I am showing my age now here, aren’t I? I would say, sector-wise, I am from the financial services industry, but at the same time there are the same challenges in any organisation regardless of sector.

What it did, I suppose, for me in terms of experience, was ignite in me this desire to continue to help organisations, but also people as well, and take the big step of setting up a business by myself. That was quite scary because I was quite secure in HSBC working there for so long, but I was ready. I think that’s all I can say. I was definitely ready to spread my wings.

One of my passions is diversity and inclusion, but also supporting people in their career ambitions regardless of background. I’m actually looking forward to something coming up. I can’t really divulge just yet, but in that space coming up, hopefully, later on this year, going into next year. Going back to my roots, actually, in terms of that support and doing something a little bit clever in this space.

On a personal side, I’m very proud to be in my own words an amazing Black woman, who has experienced many challenges and also many opportunities as well. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve had everything easy because I haven’t in the workplace. No, I haven’t. I’ve faced lots of things that people who know when it’s been a different experience, those challenges, some of those microaggressions, people trying to put you in a box and keep you in there. I think also that’s one of the things that actually made me also really want to just control my own destiny as well, Toby and just fly solo.

While flying solo, my business is growing. So anybody that wants to join in terms of getting a bit of experience, please let me know because I’m always looking out for people. I’m a carer, not many people realise, that I don’t think. It’s really important to me. I have been a carer for a number of years in my life. I care for my mum and it does take priority. That is for me, quite an important element of me, of who I am as well.’

All of Fiona’s experience gives her a very well-rounded and holistic approach to diversity and inclusion, which I’ve seen in practice because we’ve co-delivered a number of courses together. Fiona brings that well-rounded approach, her professional experience from HSBC plus her lived experience of being a Black woman and being a carer. All that definitely shows up in the work that we do.

One of the things that we’re going to talk about particularly is inclusive leadership because that’s an area that Fiona specialises in. For the avoidance of any doubt, I asked Fiona what inclusive leadership is from her perspective?

‘From my perspective, inclusive leadership is a way of leading that is consciously mindful of those that you lead and also those that you don’t. Leadership, particularly inclusive leadership, is where you’re very self-aware, and you ask yourself or should be asking yourself constantly, “Who am I including? Who am I not including? And why?”

That requires a high degree of self-awareness and the ability to adapt our behaviours. It’s about steps that individuals take to actively seek out and consider different perspectives for better decision-making and to collaborate more effectively with others who are not in your in-group usually.

We often talk about the people that you always feel comfortable with. In the workspace, we see that quite often, but it’s also quite limiting, quite dangerous because we’re excluding quite a lot of other people who have got the talent but haven’t got the access to the opportunity, because our brain is telling us, “Well, I’m always going to stick to what I already know.”

One key component of inclusive leadership is about the doing. It’s about what we say, it’s about what we do, and how we can make someone feel through our actions and behaviours. From an inclusion point of view, that’s about helping people and ensuring that people do feel valued, respected and supported for who they are. It sounds cliched because I’m sure people think, “Yeah, that’s what they always say,” but it’s true. It is absolutely true. And inclusive leadership is about stepping up and not being afraid to challenge, and to change the status quo, remove those barriers that exclude people.’

For me, Fiona touched on a few key things there. It’s like the Deloitte six signature traits of inclusive leadership, which include being aware of your biases and blind spots and having that emotional intelligence as well. I like what Fiona said about thinking about who are you including and who are you not including, and why.

I think the ‘and why’ part is really important. People need to stick with it and go deep on that because sometimes it can be quite easy to brush off the why. If you can stick with it and investigate why certain people or groups of people are being excluded, ‘ because we like to hang out with people that are just like ourselves. I worked with an HR director once, who said, ‘I always thought that opposites attract, but actually, birds of a feather flock together.’

Fiona agreed. She added, ‘It’s not just in our work lives, it’s in our personal lives as well. When we work together, Toby, and do those circle of influence exercises, we demonstrate and prove it, don’t we? Time and time again, it doesn’t fail. People see that they surround themselves with people that are like them.’

I asked Fiona what is one key myth that she feels we should dispel when it comes to inclusive leadership?

‘Inclusive leadership isn’t about hierarchy. With leadership in the title, people think it’s something for only leaders to demonstrate, or if you have a team reporting to you, it’s just then that person’s responsibility to be demonstrating inclusive leadership, and it’s not. It is important, if you are in those roles you do need to turn those things up, but it’s not just restricted to individuals who lead.

Inclusive leadership, for sure, is about how we interact with others regardless of role, but it does have to be switched on from the top of organisations by those who are in those positions of leadership and influence. But it’s not just about them, it’s about interacting with others inclusively. And I think the other word I’d add to that is intentional. I’m just going to be very cheeky, and add another myth, something else that bugs me about inclusivity.

The other myth I want to dispel is, and it’s going to sound a bit like an oxymoron, but it’s not exclusionary. Often, I think, people think inclusive leadership is about excluding others to the detriment of another community or giving someone special treatment from specific communities. It is actually about including all human differences, and it shouldn’t be excluding anyone. Our brains might exclude, but inclusive leadership is about then going back to that question, “Who am I excluding? And why?” And actually doing something about it, because we all have biases, don’t we? And it’s understanding what they are and taking the action to reset them.
When people say to me, “I’m aware of my biases,” I say, “Well, it’s great being aware, but it’s more than being aware, isn’t it? It’s about moving from being aware to adapting our behaviours accordingly for better inclusive action.” Of course great inclusive leaders, we will still judge, but it also means that we are going to have to work even harder to not judge or assess individuals based on who they are or who we think they are. So they’re a couple of myths. I mean, I could go on about this forever, there are just so many myths, but I just think the hierarchy and the way that sometimes people feel it’s a bit exclusionary, I’ve got to do something extra. It’s like well, you do, but not in the way that you think that you do. It also includes everybody.’

I liked the first myth where this applies to everyone and it’s not just for those with leadership in their job title. It reminded me that when I was working at Deloitte, we said that everybody in the firm was a leader and we had leaders at every level of the organisation. You didn’t have to be a partner of the firm, overseeing 3,000 people, to be a leader, you could be a graduate who’s just joined and maybe you’re on a client assignment and you’re working with one other person, or even leading yourself as an individual.

We came up with a list of leadership principles that had inclusivity woven into them, but everybody was held to account for these leadership principles, not just those with leader in the job title.

I wondered if Fiona thinks that inclusive leadership is hard for individuals to adopt?

‘Oh, yes I do. Let’s face it, if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t even be doing what we do for a living, right? We wouldn’t be needed. I think it’s hard for many reasons for individuals to adopt inclusive leadership behaviours. One of the reasons why it’s hard is we’re all different and we’re shaped by many different things. We all have our own knowledge and understanding of what inclusive leadership is. And we have to appreciate that inclusive leadership is made more difficult when we have to turn the mirror inwards and look at ourselves. Let’s face it, who likes doing that? It is hard to look at ourselves and question our core beliefs.

Doing that, especially for the first time, we’re questioning ourselves and the beliefs that we’ve held on to for a long time and made us who we are, that have kept us safe in our circle. I mean, in some instances it’s helped us be successful and progress and get all these lovely promotions. So then why does somebody come along telling me that I need to behave differently and do something different when it’s actually served a purpose and made me quite successful.

So on the surface level, we’re talking about asking people to change fundamentally, something that has made them, them. That also then feels like I’ve got something extra that I now need to do that I didn’t have to do before. Another reason why it can be quite hard is some individuals, when we’re talking about it, can feel like they’re losing something rather than gaining something.

It’s like, if I’m doing that, I’m losing something that’s kept me safe before and now I’ve got to do something extra and think about who’s missing. If I’m looking at making products or services that are allegedly supposed to be for a diverse community and I’m looking at the decision-makers around my table, how can we actually be making these diverse products and services for a community if we all look the same? So it’s noticing the type of people and perspectives that I haven’t got on my team and understanding there’s something to gain here. It’s not losing anything.

Above all else, in terms of why it’s hard, I think it’s not actually often about learning, it’s often about unlearning. It’s unpicking things that you’ve known before.

I think Simon Sinek or somebody that said something like, “Companies are full of managers, but very few leaders.” What I take from that is that many people know how to do a task. Many people know how to get things done and do a really great job, but really, there are not many people who know how to truly deliver through people.

It’s something we’ve talked about before. Having people follow you because they want to and not because they have to. This is just my humble opinion, but we have many individuals who have a very strong manager mindset as opposed to a leadership mindset. It’s a mindset thing, isn’t it?’

I’ve found a useful framework to discuss with clients is a ladder model of leadership. At the bottom, you’ve got leaders who lead by authority. You have to follow them because of that position in the organisation. And if you are in that position, you want to get away from that as quickly as possible, because that’s not a sustainable way of leading. But then if you get to the top of the ladder, the job of the leader is to empower and help develop other leaders.

Fiona is also a fan of the same framework. She said, ‘What’s powerful with that framework is at the top of that ladder, is you’re not creating more followers, you’re creating more leaders. In other models, you see it’s about getting followers, which it is, but the legacy we want is in creating more leaders.

I think many people focus on the many internal reasons why they can’t be demonstrating these behaviours. These can then develop into fears; the risk of exposing my vulnerability and making mistakes, or the fear of saying the wrong thing.

Again it’s seen as a bit fluffy, a bit politically correct. All of that internal dialogue in itself then creates a barrier, doesn’t it? If I’ve got all this going on in my head, then I’m not going to do it. So because it’s those internal barriers that we also have to try and overcome with individuals. And in what we do, that’s what we spend a lot of time on.

If it was easy, we’d all be doing it. Honestly, inclusive leadership is the key for any company whose ambition is to be more diverse and inclusive. Creating that environment of equity and an environment of belonging needs that. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s hard to do because individuals often don’t fully appreciate the why? Why is this important? Why does this matter here in our company? What difference is it going to really make? What’s in it for me? What’s in it for the business? And ultimately who cares?

Once we address those root things, then it won’t be a case of we’re just implementing an inclusive leadership, workshop or programme or approach or inclusive behaviours as a reaction because everyone else is doing it. It’s got to be relevant to the company and its culture and aspirations. I think it’s got to be part and parcel of the strategic ambition of the organisation.’

A lot of organisations that I talk to want to get it into the quote-unquote DNA of the business but, as Fiona says, it’s not just a one-off workshop and then you expect everybody to be cured. When I interviewed Emma Codd, the global D&I lead at Deloitte and my former boss, I always remember her saying that culture is the sum of our day-to-day behaviours. So how do you want people to show up at work? How do you want them to behave moment to moment leading their teams, leading themselves in the organisation? I asked Fiona what she thinks companies should be doing to make it easier for individuals to become inclusive leaders and have that inclusive mindset?

‘I need to get an understanding of where my clients are at. Something like a learning needs analysis to establish where the gaps are and a self-assessment to turn that mirror around. We don’t often do that in busy environments. We just carry on doing what we’re doing. I think it’s important to not have that assumption or presumption that everyone’s on the same page when we’re talking about all of these good things. That’s something that companies can start to do and it’s quite an easy-ish thing if they’re ready to do it.

Another important thing is listening. When you’re having these kinds of conversations, you do hear fears and vulnerabilities that serve as those barriers, as I said before, to creating that inclusive culture. It’s important that we create safe spaces, so we can surface things. It’s not easy. As I said, we’re digging into people’s beliefs. If you are in a visible leadership position, for example, it’s not often easy to sit down and share those in front of those that you’re leading. So having those safe spaces and doing those one-to-one conversations, is a helpful thing to do. I don’t think we do enough of it. We just jump off straight into it and blanket everybody with the same approach.

We know that doesn’t work and you have written a fantastic book Inclusive Growth about it. I really need to write a book myself! Leading generally, whether that’s individually leading, or leading with your leading people, it can sometimes be quite a lonely space, especially when doing something like this around inclusive behaviours and inclusive leadership.

So I think another thing that companies can do is create these peer-to-peer groups. So once you know you’ve had your one-to-ones, etcetera, once you’ve surfaced some of the challenges and also some of the opportunities you have those peer-to-peer groups as a safe space for individuals to get support and share best practices and support.

There are some leaders doing great things so I say share it. Why are you keeping it to yourself? We don’t do enough of that. The other thing that companies can do is acknowledge that this is hard and it’s not going to change overnight.

No one’s going to go through a baptism of my inclusive leadership programme and come out the other at the end saying I’m converted! This takes time. It’s a mindset shift and change in behaviour. So we really need to help to get people ready to enhance that growth mindset, you know, and that continuous learning approach in our organisations.

Put those support mechanisms in place and don’t shy away from 360 feedback. We’ve got to get into the habit of turning the mirror inwards to look at ourselves. But we’ve also going to get in the habit of turning the mirror the other way to see how I am coming across. How do people feel, see and hear me? Am I as inclusive as I think I am? What is that gap between what I think and what are people experiencing?

When I’m in those conversations and I’m in those sessions, there are those penny drop moments, because how people see themselves is often vastly different to how they’re received by others. What it also starts to surface is actually my favourite question, which I’m sure will be on my headstone. Again, it’s “Who am I not including? Why have I got this kind of relationship with this person, but not why are they feeling and seeing and hearing me differently.”

So you do start to then see your world through a much clearer lens and it does take confidence. But going back to those Deloitte behaviours, Toby, I think the one word that is a fantastic behaviour, inclusive behaviour that we just don’t demonstrate enough is courage. This takes courage to do, doesn’t it?

I love them, they’re my favourites. I use them all the time. I know there was so much research done on them to get to those six. And they are still valid. When you’re looking at the world in the context that we look at this, all of them, the cognisance of bias, that cultural intelligence, the courage, the collaboration they’re all absolutely relevant to being inclusive, those behaviours. And in any context.’

Part of the courage trait is being proactive and being able to rock the boat or call things out when you see them. So if you’re a leader and you notice that, let’s say the talent attraction process or recruitment process is attracting a certain type of person, you’re not afraid to call that out, and are prepared to challenge it and change the status quo. That resonates with me.

I’ve been working with a large client who’s in the energy sector, helping them develop an inclusive leadership programme for their top 250 managers. One of the design principles that we came up with was that we need to meet people where they’re at if we want to take them on this inclusive leadership journey. We’ve developed this 4 x 4 grid. Along one axis is the maturity of being an inclusive leader. It starts with being unaware of inclusion and diversity all the way through to being a proactive inclusive leader where you go out of your way to be an inclusive leader.

Along the other axis is moving people from awareness to action. As Fiona has said, we could go in and do an hour or two long inclusive leadership workshop, which would raise awareness, but it doesn’t actually move people to action. It’s definitely the action that has a profound impact.
It’s moment-to-moment behaviours which ultimately create a culture within the team or the organisation.

So assuming an employer or an organisation gets inclusive leadership right, I asked Fiona how can employers sustain this so that they actually make a tangible impact?

‘With clients, I look at the values, and then I’ll look for the supporting behaviours, which are often none. So that worries me. The first place to start to sustain inclusive leadership, please, please, please have your values, but link some behaviours to them.

Don’t just have lots of nice words. What’s underneath that? What is it that we want people to do and how do we want people to behave and weave diversity and inclusion into that? That’s the first place to start to make it relevant to your company.

For this to be sustainable, and organisations are serious about this there has got to be accountability and a clear commitment, with action on driving inclusive culture with inclusive behaviours that require our leaders to be inclusive leaders. It’s got to be part and parcel of the same thing, and that then links to enhance that capability.

This can’t just be a one-off thing, those behaviours should be added to your general leadership programmes. This is something that needs to be added to any company’s suite of learning. Have inclusive leadership as a general programme for your leaders who you’ve got in succession plans and leaders that are coming into the company. It’s got to be in your induction programmes, from the beginning and throughout the organisation, forming part of the learning and development suite in different ways.

Then there’s succession, talent management and promotion.
With clients, I ask, “Well, what’s the basis that you’re promoting people on?”
“Well, they’ve done this, they’ve achieved that, they had some really tough sales targets to meet, and they’ve got them.”
“Brilliant, but how did they get it? You know, what are they like with the people, did they lead through people, just lead through themselves?”
And the answer is, “Oh, right, okay.”

I think again it’s about embedding those behaviours in those key core people, processes and systems. I’ll be gutted if I didn’t say this because it’s something that we’re both passionate about, measuring the progress.

It’s got to be monitored and measured. We’re all for fantastic D&I dashboards that help companies to see where they’re trying to move from and what they’re trying to move to and the progress that they are making there. It’s important to measure the impact of anything you’re doing around inclusive leadership. Is it really working? What changes are we seeing? Following the murder of George Floyd we’ve now got these great aspirational targets of having more Black people in senior roles, that’s all great, but is it working?

Have we done enough to change the behaviours and mindsets through how we recruit, how we do talent, all those kinds of good things, and how effectively are we measuring it? What are the consequences if we don’t? I think again there’s something else around making it sustainable which is that consequence has got to be built into performance management, hasn’t it? It can’t just be a standalone kind of thing, it has to be part of that review process for everybody.

Everyone’s a leader, so everyone’s got a responsibility in how we treat people. How we promote people. How do we give people opportunities? Are we mentoring? All of these are underpinned by inclusive behaviours and leadership.’

Before we finished our conversation, I asked Fiona the question that I ask everybody when they come on the show to talk to me, namely, ‘What does inclusive growth mean to you?’

‘I’m seeing this as personal, as me, so inclusive growth for me is about the ability to grow as a person, being a better version of yourself, self-improvement that has inclusion at its heart. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I am still inclusively growing as a person, really sharpening my skills and my knowledge of being a better human. That’s how I see inclusive growth.

I know we often talk about it, don’t we, in a business context, but I’m seeing this also as a personal thing, and I think it goes back to that previous question about how we keep this sustainable?

It starts with us. We’ve got to be forever evolving and challenging ourselves, I would say.’

If you want to talk to Fiona or me about implementing inclusive leadership within your own organisation, then please do reach out to us. You can reach out to Fiona on her LinkedIn page where you’ll find more on diversity and inclusion and business updates and I can be contacted through LinkedIn or via my website.

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