Practical Inclusion. 9 steps to inclusive leadership

As a Consultant, working with some of Australia’s leading organisations, I often get asked by clients – “what practical things can we do to really shift the needle on our diversity and inclusion initiatives?”

What I hear when this question is asked is “We know that diversity and inclusion is good for us but we’ve tried everything and nothing seems to stick. What else have you got?”

Many organisations have spent a small fortune implementing one-off initiatives, holding a myriad of workshops and running conferences only to find that these programs aren’t delivering the cultural change that they are seeking.

Let’ be clear – there is no silver bullet to solve the issues around diversity and inclusion without effort and sustained action. As disappointing as this may sound, no-one can wave a magic wand and bring about change. Looking for the next new and shiny approach will not provide a “cure-all”. It takes everyone to put in a combined effort to make a difference.

But there are a few practical things that are relatively painless, that every leader can do to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

1. Make sure your whole leadership team is on board with the vision

Leaders need to lead from the top – setting guidelines and non-negotiables about what the organisation wants to be known for is crucial. Without a consistent commitment to diversity and inclusion and strong leadership in this space, no program, no matter how good it is, will make the kind of impact organisations are looking for.

2. Review your key people processes and ensure they are implemented consistently

How an organisation recruits, remunerates, promotes and develops its people is a sure sign of whether they are serious about inclusive work practices. Ensuring that people processes are structured, bias-free and easy for people to follow means that no matter who is leading the agenda, consistency will be upheld.

3. Be specific about your expectations

No matter how talented your team is, without clear direction, they will fall short of producing their best work. Ensure that the goals that you set are fair and equitable for all members of your team – everyone should be provided with the opportunity to thrive.

4. Be aware of your own preferences

The fact is, no matter how good intentioned a leader is, they will be influenced in their decision making by their own preferences and biases. It’s part of the human condition – there’s no escaping it. However, leaders who are aware of their preferences and bias and who challenge themselves to think differently and check their assumptions regularly, are those that get the best results.

5. Seek out the opinions of others

No-one is right all of the time. Those leaders who seek out the opinions of others, are those who will make the best decisions and get the most out of their team. It’s also a great tool to circumvent your own preferences.

6. Create safe forums

“Safe” forums are those where people feel that they can express their views, make suggestions, ask questions and throw up new ideas, without fear of repercussion or ridicule. Leaders who are inclusive of new ideas and ways of working are those that invite everyone to participate. It’s no use having a diverse team if you expect them to conform to your own ideas all of the time.

7. Challenge assumptions

Assumptions are the antithesis to inclusion. By challenging long-held assumptions about who is able and willing to perform certain roles or how and where work is performed, leaders open themselves up to a whole range of new possibilities.

8. Be curious and flexible in your thinking

Inclusive leaders are naturally curious about others, their experiences and their ideas. Curiosity leads to conversation, conversation leads to better understanding and better understanding leads to optimal decision making. They are also flexible in their views and open to new suggestions and ideas. This is what drives innovation and better business outcomes.

9. Start afresh every day

A practical approach to inclusive leadership doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be easy. Changing the way that you think and work takes time, effort and perseverance. Inclusive leaders realise that they will not get it right every time but give themselves permission to learn from their mistakes and try again tomorrow.

Optimiss Consulting works with organisations who are focused on driving better business outcomes through inclusive work practices. To book your free 30 minute phone consultation, contact us at or through our website