Inclusion for competitive advantage with Stephen Frost

“inclusion is about leadership – it is a verb not a noun.. “

A great and fun conversation with Stephen about inclusion and accountability. How we can make it a natural part of the system : both in operations, decision making, leadership and culture ?

How can senior leaders create the conditions for inclusive decision making to be the norm ?

It all starts on the inside. Leaders must do their own inner work first to create psychological safety in their immediate bubbles, and there is patchy progress towards a more collective model but old habits die hard: we can grasp logical, intellectual, rational and commercial aspects but inclusion encompasses more emotional, unspoken aspects.

Stephen shares his experience, research and insights on building sustainable inclusive workplaces from working with leaders and organisations across the globe.

The main insights you’ll get from this episode are :

–       Diversity is a reality (no two people are the same), whereas inclusion is a choice (to include diversity) and therefore not always comfortable – homophily is our natural tendency, but it doesn’t help us solve problems or tackle challenges.

–       Inclusion is measured based on strategy, data, governance, leadership and systems against an accompanying maturity scale of diversity 1.0 (compliance), diversity 2.0 (looks good), inclusion 3.0 (embedding) and inclusion 4.0 (changing the system to be more inclusive).

–       Being truly inclusive – i.e. inclusion 4.0 – means feeling it in the culture of the organisation, witnessing it in behaviours, and having a low incidence of cognitive dissonance, e.g. by being employee-centric, offering choice, recalibrating systems and algorithms.

–       Inclusion is the verb to diversity’s noun and is often difficult to enact in a hierarchy as there is less diversity towards the top – senior sponsorship must ensure checks and balances and transparency to make it tangible.

–       Diversity is not an HR subject, but a strategic topic, and decision-making processes must be more inclusive.

–       Leaders must start with themselves to prevent a credibility gap, create psychological safety, and motivate the team (intrinsically – e.g. self-worth, and extrinsically – e.g. remuneration).

–       Being vulnerable is a necessity and not as risky as it might appear but the system holds us back on this front: data inflow exceeds our cognitive capacity and so we must seek help from others.

–       There is patchy progress towards a more collective model but old habits die hard: we can grasp logical, intellectual, rational and commercial aspects but inclusion encompasses more emotional, unspoken aspects.

–       A ‘speak up’ culture rewards questions and productive dissent and co-opting it enables evolution – often not intentionally but in response to a crisis – but ideally it should be intentional so as to integrate empathy, etc. into the education system as life skills.

–       Inclusion has a central role to play when it comes to competitive advantage and why should it not? The exclusion of cognitive diversity and personality types represents a deficit model as opposed to the value-added model of inclusion.

–       Maslow’s hierarchy of needs confirms that inclusion matters, and major disruption or crises (e.g. COVID) make us more open to accepting this and having a more balanced life.

–       We need to democratise access to support, reduce the cost of learning and invest across the board to demystify inclusion.

–       Senior leaders with power and budget must consider inclusion within the wider strategy, embed it on a daily basis, and benchmark against a maturity framework.

–       The golden rule used to be ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’, but this is no longer enough, and the platinum rule now is ‘treat others as they wish to be treated’.

–       If we expect others to adapt to us, we will never include but if we adapt to them, we automatically include and learn and grow as a result.

–       All this is difficult to do 24/7 but we must make a start in order to shift the needle and demonstrate change to garner reciprocity, which in turn produces a virtuous circle.

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Suzie Lewis

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