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Blog - Setting the tone from the top

Setting the tone from the top

Posted by Heather McIntosh 29/10/19

people with speech bubbles“Diversity and inclusion is an HR thing”.

Surely a myth that’s been well and truly busted – or not?

In the light of the current gender pay gap debate, the #MeToo movement and widespread media coverage of these, few leaders and managers can be unaware of the importance of diversity and inclusion and the potential negative impact on organisational reputation and performance.

Yet, beyond monitoring diversity statistics, what are senior leaders doing to show commitment to creating inclusive cultures within their organisations?

A recent spotlight article in The Institute of Leadership and Management’s Edge magazine  ‘Leading by example,’ highlights that to create and foster an inclusive work environment, organisations need to start with “the tone from the top”. 

Imperative for success of any D&I intervention is that the C-suite are not only seen and heard to advocate diversity and inclusion, but that they also act as positive role models, reflecting the strategy and values of the company.

The leadership of the organisation must want to change, clearly communicate their intentions and measure success through meaningful K.P.Is in the same way they might set these for financial or other business goals.

The indication, strongly supported by recent research evidence, is that too often initiatives focus on HR-led training events rather than including closer examination of the day to day business interactions between colleagues, for example in decision making,  interpersonal working relationships and unresolved, or often undeclared, conflict within and across teams.

To create a truly inclusive culture, raising awareness of bias and appropriate behaviour needs to be positioned in the wider organisational context. The organisation needs to look into its own practices and question why they might exist, and discuss solutions together, so everyone feels involved and can participate fully in any subsequent developments.

If training is targeted at ‘fixing’ the behaviour of those who attend (rarely C-suite members) it may feel uncomfortable and tokenistic, provide little return on investment, and unintentionally create resentment.  

D&I issues go to the core of people’s individual values and beliefs and their individual life experiences that have shaped those.

These are strongly held and whilst employees may nod and agree they need to change their behaviour, this is difficult, if not impossible, to sustain after a short intervention that is not backed up with further endorsement of the intention and positive role modelling from the top.

A recent C.I.P.D article also warns leaders to avoid seeking ‘silver bullet’ solutions to inclusion, but rather look internally at their own leadership behaviours and practices, the potential unintended consequence of these and the scope and influence they have to signal whether inclusion is a key priority for the business, or not.

Diversity data may look healthy in terms of recruitment, but is no indicator of the creation of an inclusive culture where the ‘tone from the top’ does not authentically model inclusive behaviour and where inappropriate behaviour remains unchallenged.

In summary, for any HR-led initiative to have significant impact in creating a truly inclusive culture, senior leadership must:

- visibly signal their commitment through their own behaviours
- ensure alignment of policies and people management practices
- consistently communicate a positive and inclusive ‘tone from the top’

For more information on how we can help you create and sustain inclusive cultures please email us or contact us on 01903 732 782 Or take a look at how we have helped other organisations case studies

Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh

Over the last 25 years I have gained extensive experience working with private and public sector organisations seeking to modernise and grow their business through building their managers’ capacity to deliver excellence and get the best from people. When I am not helping others with their professional development I am usually honing my French language skills and still striving to achieve a sub one-hour 10k run!

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