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Leadership for Diversity and Inclusion - the Power of Small Actions

Most leaders focus on and agonise over diversity targets, data, and success stories. But the ones who create real, lasting inclusive cultures invest in something else - the small things.

Most leaders in organisations big and small spend a disproportionate amount of their time worrying about making a tangible difference on diversity and inclusion within their organisations. They worry about diversity and inclusion data and stats.

How many new black or brown people did we hire this year?

What percentage of our board is black or brown or female?

How are we performing on diversity and inclusion key performance indicators?

All these questions are important. The issues they address matter, and these are not wrong things to focus on, but they are not the only nor the best things to focus on. Why? Because the small things matter too. In fact, small things may even matter more.

When leaders focus on diversity and inclusion performance data, there is one little problem to which they are often oblivious. The focus is all about them. It’s about how they are performing. It’s about how good (or bad) they look. And approaching diversity and inclusion that way does not put the users, the (black and brown and queer and female and disabled…) people for whom they seek change and equality, at the heart of the problem. And that does not build trust within organisations and between staff and leaders. It often appears as if leaders only care about diversity and inclusion only as tokenism and nothing more. Without trust an organisation can never be truly diverse and inclusive.

So, on top of the hard measures of diversity and inclusion, I encourage leaders to do something else, something that builds trust. Do the little things. As a leader, diversity and inclusion should not only be about saying the right things in meetings and reports. Diversity and inclusion should not be something you do. It must the way you do things, the way you live. It’s about the little things you should do day to day, things you do when no one is looking, things that may not feature in the annual report or beef up the statistics or make you look good.

You may be wondering - what are those things and how do I go about doing them?

Well, there are plenty of small things you can do. Remember, the objective it to put the people you are trying to help with your diversity and inclusion efforts at the heart of everything you do. So the easiest and most effective way go about it is having open dialogue with people. Listen to their concerns. Pull them aside, in the corridor, or on Zoom, and ask how they are feeling and what you can do for them as an individual. Tap someone on the shoulder and tell them they will be great for a role. Offer to grab a coffee and have a conversation with someone you wouldn't interact with. Ask them about their jobs, their interests, their life. Be genuinely interested. Throw around names of people you think will be great for roles or promotion - without them knowing. Be a true champion of the underrepresented.

Small things like that show that you care about people, not just stats. Single out people of colour or women or disabled people to help or to seek advice from. They will appreciate it. They will feel that you genuinely care. And most importantly, they will talk. People always talk. And your small deeds will not go unnoticed. You will not need to self-promote or stand behind figures and stats. And that is how you build trust. That is how you become a more effective diversity and inclusion champion and build a lasting culture of diversity and inclusion, one small action at a time.


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