Prior to starting my career in the sector, I naively assumed that the sector would be at the forefront of issues relating to inclusion and diversity given the diverse communities it serves. I have found that this is often not the case. At times, conversations surrounding inclusion and diversity can feel very tokenistic. For me, what has been particularly apparent, and what concerns me as someone who is at the start of my career, is the lack of diversity in leadership positions.
However, I don’t think it's all doom and gloom. In the housing sector, for instance, there is a significant recognition that more needs to be done to make the sector more diverse and inclusive. I have worked for organisations that are very forward thinking and worked with individuals who are very passionate about these issues. I think the challenge is to ensure that these voices are elevated in the sector.
Traditional conceptions of leadership, in my opinion, are outdated. I have formed my opinion on what makes good, inclusive leadership by having experienced it. It is collaborative in nature, not hierarchical. Being collaborative, to me, means that a diversity in opinions and perspectives is not only respected but is sought after.
Good, inclusive leadership is about being strategic and having a clear direction, but it is also crucially about having a high degree of emotional intelligence and empathy. Putting yourself in your team’s shoes is vital to promoting and maintaining a culture of diversity and inclusion. Inclusion, diversity and equality should be things that align to a good leader’s own personal values. This helps stop these issues from feeling like they are tick box exercises.
Often when I’ve had this conversation about supporting people into leadership, the response is that if you work hard and are right for a certain position you will have opportunities. Issues surrounding equality of opportunity are not seen as a barrier anymore. This response automatically shuts down the conversation. I think that it is important that we bring everyone along and have conservations in an open and honest manner.
Changing workplace culture is key - it’s not just about policy and legislation. Issues around inclusive and diverse leadership should on the top of an organisation’s agenda, not just a ‘add-on’. We need to value the different experiences and perspectives that inclusive and diverse leadership can bring. I do feel that in some ways change will happen incrementally. However, current leaders need to make a commitment to paving the way for inclusive leadership.
This is the last in a series of four articles curated by the Ellie Munro, a social policy researcher at the University of Birmingham, for Civil Society Voices. Lots of people have been talking about ‘diversity’ in the voluntary sector recently.
This is great; it has been encouraging to see senior leaders reflecting on what statistics tell us about ‘pale, male and stale’ boards, spaces and leadership teams. But some voices have been missing. As much as we need leadership at the top to open up room, or to get out of the way, we need to listen to people just starting out on their careers in the sector, those who have experienced oppression when building theirs, and those supporting others to develop as leaders too. This short series of articles aims to bring those voices forward, reflecting on experiences so far, what inclusive leadership looks like, and how we can foster it.
More from this series