“Reach in for the stars; go within yourself and search for the hidden,  latent, buried and unknown talents that you can bring out and use  to lighten, brighten the darkness or minimise the setbacks of people  around you” - Dr Christiana Ayoka Mary Thorpe 

When it comes to leading, we must always keep developing.  Leaders who want to see inclusion and diversity progress in their  organisation understand that the process starts with them.  For example, when Satya Nadella came into his role as CEO of  Microsoft in 2014, he was determined to enhance the organisation  with a culture of learning, especially in the areas are of inclusion  and innovation. The encouragement he gave to the company was to  “always keep learning. You stop doing useful things if you don't  learn.” Too often the inclusion and diversity agendas are limited  to the HR departments of companies, rather than the strategic  growth and innovation domains where they also belong. The C-suite  and boards who take personal ownership of inclusion and diversity  are the ones who see real and tangible progress made in their business.  Unfortunately, it often takes something going wrong, such as a  sexual harassment lawsuit, or negative press coverage, before the  need for change is acknowledged. The reputational, financial and  personal risks of homogeneity and exclusion are issues that smart  leaders take seriously and anticipate. They also see the multiple  business opportunity that an inclusion and diversity lens can bring  to their business. Leaders set the tone for other people to follow. If you can be a more authentic leader, you will naturally create a more  inclusive business that can optimise for diversity. 

Representative Leadership 

When it comes to leadership: how you lead is as important as who  is leading. Progress on inclusion and diversity can be made when  the leader at the top becomes more inclusive, even if they are from  

a dominant group. Much has been made about who is leading an  organisation, given the continued under-representation of women  and ethnic minorities at the top.  

The need for representative leadership that reflects the communities,  consumers and stakeholders in our society has never been greater.  However, representation doesn’t necessarily lead to inclusion. From  recent research at Equality Group on stereotypes in leadership they  

found that a quarter of UK women felt that female bosses express  more gender bias towards women than male managers.8 This  counterintuitive trend has also been shown in research by Dolly Chugh at NYU Stern. Women, as a whole, show stronger implicit  gender bias than men and black Americans are as likely to show  pro-white implicit race bias as pro-black implicit race bias.9 However, it is worth keeping in mind that White people very  reliably show pro-White implicit bias, while Black people are more  even on their results – being about as likely to show pro-White as  pro-Black bias. 

Bias and Balance 

One of the reasons for greater gender or racial bias in certain groups  is the pressure to assimilate to the dominant cultural narative.  Equality Group research shows that a fifth of UK women feel they  have to present themselves in more stereotypically masculine  ways to succeed in their jobs. To be accepted in the traditionally  masculine world of work, women not only have to play by the rules  of the game, they have to excel at the game. Yet, this pressure on  women to cultivate traditionally masculine qualities while remaining  inherently female is a double standard with unexpected benefits.  It has taught female leaders to be more resourceful, notes Bobbi  

Thomason at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. Aware of  facing greater scrutiny, women are more likely to consult a wider  network when making decisions while ensuring they are backed  up by evidence. As women in business have learnt how to be more  like men, perhaps we need more men in business to learn how to  be more like women. A combination of the best of masculine and  feminine traits is one that takes us closer to an inclusive form of  leadership. 

Inclusive Leadership Traits 

What are the core characteristics of inclusive leadership? There are  many different frameworks. The models used by some companies  list twenty-plus behaviours.10 The most effective are memorable and  meaningful enough to be implemented daily. As a starting point,  let’s explore six core characteristics of inclusive leaders. These are  outlined below, but can be adapted for the values and language of  any organisation. 

1) Positive commitment; taking personal responsibility for  change, based on the business case for diversity and inclusion,  and a deeply rooted sense of fairness. 

2) Courage and humility; fearlessly challenging attitudes and  practices that yield homogeneity, while acknowledging personal  limits and seeking input from other people. 

3) Awareness of bias; continually making an effort to identify  blind spots and ingrained assumptions that get in the way of  objective decision-making. 

4) Curiosity and active listening; institutionalising open mindedness by listening carefully to different perspectives so all  employees feel valued and respected. 

5) Emotional and cultural intelligence; developing enough  self-awareness to respond with sensitivity to different personalities  and cultural contexts. 

6) Collaborative and generous; understanding that teams work  best when people feel empowered to share their opinions, while  encouraging diverse perspectives.


At Microsoft, Satya Nadella, emphasised the qualities of emotional  intelligence and active listening. These are two traits that might  traditionally have been referred to as feminine qualities. Early on in  his leadership journey, Satya identified them as key competitive  advantages. One of the experiences that he believes contributed  more than anything to strengthening his sense of empathy was  when he became a parent. His first child, born when Satya and his  wife were 25 and 29 years old respectively, suffers from Cerebral  palsy which prevents him from speaking and moving his limbs.  Nadella has said that; “At first, I did nothing but ask myself; Why  did this happen to me?, then I began to understand that absolutely  nothing had happened to me. In reality this thing had happened to  my son and for me it was time to see life through his eyes and to do  what I was supposed to, as a parent and a father”.11 This lesson in  greater empathy at home, then translated further into his work and  became a priority in business for him every day. 

Hephzi Pemberton, Founder and CEO

"It is concerning to see there has been a decrease in the number of ethnic minority CEOs since the report by INvolve was published in 2018. After three years, one would also hope to see more female CEOs appointed, but we have only moved by one percent. When so many companies talk about valuing DEI, it’s disappointing to see the lack of visible results at the most senior levels of leadership."