Part 2: Why there has never been a more critical time to lead inclusively

The Power of Now
Marissa Ellis
Marissa Ellis

Diversily Founder

This is the second part of a 6-part Inclusive Leadership series by Marissa Ellis, Founder and CEO of Diversily.  You can find out how Diversily can help with Inclusive Leadership development here

In Part 1 I shared why knowing yourself is the first step to becoming an inclusive leader. 

In, this article, Part 2 we’ll ask, why now

Please share so that together we can create a better, more inclusive future for everyone.


Many people have been working tirelessly in Diversity and Inclusion for decades. They have devoted emotional energy and hard work. Progress is being made. However, many feel that the landscape is exactly the same today as it was 20 years ago. Those with privilege rise to the top, with minority voices simply not being heard, never mind having a seat at the table.

Historically, diversity and inclusion efforts meant creating diversity networks for minority groups and investing corporate social responsibility funds (CSR) in causes that were looking to address imbalance. The hard work of many of these smaller, often not for profit, organisations is coming through in nurtured diverse talent. Now companies need to not just put money into side-line initiatives, but walk the walk and invest deeply in building diversity and inclusion into the very heart of their organisations. 

Diversity is nothing without inclusion.

As the talent pipeline diversifies so the need for inclusion becomes even more critical. We can get as many women or people from minority groups into the pipe, but if it’s leaking they are not going to make it through to the other end. People in minority groups are more likely to feel excluded if intensional effort is not made to make them feel included. 

Women are more likely to quit tech industry jobs according to a report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). The turnover rate for women in tech industry is 41%, compared to just 17% for men. The message is simple, people who do not feel included will not stick around for long. The result is often a less diverse and therefore less capable workforce. 

A really key point is that we can’t expect the disadvantaged, the minority groups, those without power or the diversity and inclusion experts to drive change alone. We need everyone to be a part of the conversation. Transformational change will really only come when the majority get involved. We need to take diversity and inclusion to the mainstream. It needs to be connected to and embedded into business daily life. Not just because it is the right thing to do for people, but because it is the right thing to do for business.

Diversity and inclusion raises the bar. It drives innovation, improves customer experience, enhances staff wellbeing and results in better financial performance. 

“Building #diverseteams is giving a better reach to the wider #market and #customer base; this is becoming even more important in the growing #digitalworld of virtual assets and global distribution.”
Lana Tahirly Abdullayeva — Strategic Advisor, Digital

The message is simple.

Being neutral is no longer enough.

In fact, being neutral is having a negative effect as you are essentially saying ‘it’s ok as it is.” And quite frankly it isn’t.

As a leader you have a choice. You can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. There is no middle ground. It’s time to get involved. It’s time to step up before you get left behind. For the well-intentioned masses who choose to be a part of the solution the question isn’t, whether to get involved, but how you can make a difference and what you can do.

It comes down to a simple equation.

Awareness + Intent = Change.

As an aside, this equation was the foundation for The Change Canvas, but I won’t digress. If you want to be part of the solution you need to build your awareness, you need to understand the problems and the issues. You then need to commit to do something to drive change. Only with this awareness and intent will change ever happen.

When it comes to business, it is about building it into the everyday. By this I mean understanding the benefits, building it into targets, connecting it to personal reward, allocating budget, measuring progress and embedding diversity and inclusion considerations into daily work. This is how it becomes relevant and important to everyone. Yes, I did say allocating budget. Diversity and inclusion will affect your bottom line in a positive way, but you need to invest. Budget allocation is a clear statement of business priorities. There is a lot that can be done without investment, however if you say this is important but will not spend any money you are sending a very mixed message and will undoubtably limit your overall success.

It’s time for action.

But how do we move people to act?

Essentially you have two options; hope or fear.

The ‘hope’ story is ultimately about creating more opportunity for everyone. Diversity and inclusion is great for individuals, organisations and society. Learning to think inclusively is a critical skill that will not only help you develop your own skills and relationships, you will be a greater asset as an employee. Diversity and inclusion bring huge benefits to businesses in terms of performance, competitive advantage, ability to innovate and increasingly being an employee of choice. Using hope as a lever for change is all about opportunity and a brighter future.

The ‘fear’ story is about not wanting to get left behind or being the next ‘failure’ due to the lack of diversity. There are some really interesting articles that relate the lack of diversity as being a factor both in the 2008 financial crash and the 9/11 events. There are also lots of examples of ’tech’ gone wrong — such as the racist automated soap dispenser, that only works with white hands or the face recognition software that equated African Americans with gorillas. Using fear as a lever for change is all about negative consequences of inaction.

People are moved to action through hope and fear.

So why change now?

There are some critical drivers that mean that there has never been a more pressing time for change.

Your job as an inclusive leader is to help others to take a step forward in their own journey in being an advocate for inclusive change. In Part 3 of this Inclusive Leadership series I’ll talk more about this ‘inclusion awakening’ journey and how to create allies and advocates.

But first, I will share nine drivers for urgent change here. Everyone’s journey is different, but by sharing these drivers, you can reference elements of this article to convince more people that now really is the time for change.

1. Evidence of Benefits

There has never been more research that backs the benefits that diversity and inclusion can bring. From profitability, innovation, reputation, productivity & employee and customer satisfaction to name just a few. The benefits are wide reaching. Gallup Research found that closing the gender gap could increase the world GDP by $28 Trillion. McKinsey research found that ethnic diversity and gender diversity increase the likelihood of above average financial returns by 35% and 15% respectively. Inclusive leaders get better results and create more opportunity and better solutions for everyone. There is a huge opportunity cost of inaction. 

2. The Empathy Economy

To put this simplistically, as the robots take our jobs our value will be in being more human. This means applying our emotional intelligence to address challenges and solve problems that can’t be automated. We will shift our collective attention from manual, repetitive, low-value tasks and focus on providing human expert judgement, emotional understanding and qualitative evaluation. To do this well, we don’t just need emotional intelligence, we need ‘inclusive intelligence’. We need to build empathy not just for people like us, but for everyone.

3. Problem Space Complexity

We are operating in a global and more complex world than ever before. Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is driving the need for inclusion as a new leadership capability. Collaboration has never been more important. Deep wide-ranging expertise is needed to address challenging and complex problems and satisfy unique and varied needs. The old world of a ‘command and control’ style leader, no longer works, as a single person cannot have all of the answers. Company success is limited by the capabilities of the puppet master. We need inclusive leaders who can bring diverse perspectives together to spark ideas, remove blind spots and inspire everyone to innovate. What is important is collective, not individual capability. Diversity is the secret weapon to improve collective intelligence.

4. #MeToo and our shifting social expectations

Harry Weinstein has been convicted for 23 years for sexual assault. His defence were hoping for 5 years. A very strong message has been sent. You cannot use your power to abuse or take advantage of others. The #MeToo movement sent ripples through society. Societal norms are shifting, and workplace culture needs to keep up. New generations think differently. For example, ‘nappy changing’ is now generally expected of both parents whereas for older generations a father who changed his children’s nappies was a rare find. Inclusive workplaces are a huge card in the war on talent. Inclusive leaders need to build authentic inclusive cultures, not just pay lip service to diversity if they are to attract and retain top talent.

5. #BlackLivesMatter

Invigorated by the killing of George Flyod by a police officer on the 25th of May 2020 in Minneapolis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has received global attention. It serves as a pressing call to take action against systemic racism, now. Gender was always the comfortable first step for diversity initiatives. Everyone has a female in their lives and it was a more relatable and comfortable diversity dimention to discuss. However support for white middle class women does not come close to addressing the varied needs of everyone who identifies as a women. Race was always a more awkward and often avoided topic. One of the most powerful outcomes of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is our collective increasing level of comfort talking about historic oppression, racism and privilege. Now is the time to build, not lose, momentum to drive some real change and remove systemic bias and injustice.

6. COVID19

In the current time, it would be difficult not to mention Corona Virus when talking about reasons for change. All of our worlds have changed dramatically in unimaginable ways due to the global pandemic. We may all be in the same storm, but we are certainly not in the same boat. Underlying inequalities are more apparent than ever. The call for change is louder than ever.

The crisis also brings a huge opportunity, not just to return to where we were but to leapfrog where we were. To embrace new ways of working, new ways of collaborating and new ways of adding value. Many teams are working remotely for the first time. Colleagues are learning more about each other, opening up and sharing in ways they haven’t done previously, as they talk to each other from their homes. Leaders are having to pro-actively think about inclusion as they consider the individuals in their teams and their specific circumstances to ensure that everyone is connected, supported, fulfilled, feels like they belong and are able to thrive. This is what inclusion is all about. Something that is embedded. Not something that is purely the work of the ‘Diversity & Inclusion experts’.

7. Purpose and Impact

People are connecting to a deeper sense of purpose and reassessing what is important and how they can personally make a meaningful difference. People are crying out to be a part of a positive movement for change. We are now seeing the consequences of our actions and becoming more aware of the damage we are causing. We want to leave the world in a better state than we found it. It’s time to course correct.

8. Growth in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

As our technology becomes more sophisticated, we are essentially encoding our biases into the AI systems that influence pretty much all aspects of our lives. We could all be subject to discrimination unwittingly — intentional systematic action is needed to help us avoid unintentional exclusion. Diversity of experience and opinion is crucial in building the future. The issue here is one of scale. Bias in a single algorithm can have so much more impact than bias in a single human. We have seen this play out with the algorthim used to determine student’s A-level results, who were not able to sit exams due to COVID-19. Capable students with high predicted grades from their teachers, who know their capabilities well, were marked down due to the post code of the school.

Not only do we need to build ‘inclusive intelligence’ in the humans who build the machines, but we need ‘inclusive artificial intelligence’. We need to understand the difference between causation and correlation, avoid using harmful proxies and avoid using training data that is riddled with historic bias. To illustrate this point, let’s take the gender pay gap. Women are paid less than men for the same work. This is a reflection of a patriarchal system and historic bias that should be corrected. Using historic pay data to train AI to make decisions about our futures, if left unchecked, will simply perpetuate historic bias.

9. The Gender Pay Gap

The World Ecomonic Forum ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2020’ states that it will take 99.5 years to close the global gender pay gap. This is not fast enough for me, nor my daughter, nor hers, nor hers! We need more people to take inclusive action now to accelerate progress. I want my children to grow up in a fair and equitable world. This can’t wait for my great, great grandchildren. 

The drivers for change are compelling and the time for change is now. Leaders like Susan Falola are taking action now to create a brighter future for us all. 

“The pandemic hasn’t just highlighted the need for more inclusion, it has highlighted why the need is so imminent. Over the next few years we will see a shift in how digital platforms operate, and how they will play a big role in social development; with the needs and wants of the ‘People’ being the one important factor that businesses take into consideration. 
This is why we must lead with inclusively, as it defines our lives, finances and sustainability for the future. As an inclusive leader, I choose to advocate that there are ‘No Barriers To Entry’ meaning access to all with no labels or profiling.”
Susan Falola CEO / Creative Director of JUUBIX LTD

I want to be a part of a world that celebrates the diversity of its people and understands and caters for different needs. A world that enables people to be themselves and everyone feels like they belong, are welcome, valued and able to contribute to the best of their abilities. A world where business is not just about pure profit, but also about impact, value creation and making a positive difference. 

Even those in the majority stand to benefit from this new reality.

Now is the time for change.

Are you ready to be a part of the solution?

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this leadership series where we’ll explore how to create more diversity and inclusion allies and advocates. 

Please share so that together we can create a better, more inclusive future for everyone.


You can find out more about Diversily Inclusive Leadership development here. You’ll also be able to download the free Inclusive Leadership Change Canvas, which is an excellent discovery tool for self-reflection. Join our growing community of leaders by using The Change Canvas to build high performing inclusive teams and release potential.

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