Inclusive Leadership from a Position of Privilege

Danica Histed min read

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a topic that has gained increasing attention in recent years, both outside of the workplace and within it. However, the broad scope of D&I as a topic, combined with the emotional responses it can evoke, often leads those in senior leadership positions to shy away from it, either due to a lack of expertise or uncertainty about how to broach the topic in the first place. Numerous studies have emphasised the importance of D&I in the workplace. It helps reduce groupthink, drive more successful businesses, and create a more inclusive society [1].

However, despite the growing research and knowledge around D&I, many organisations still overlook or misunderstand the importance of inclusion. They focus on diversity, particularly in recruitment, but lose sight of efforts towards inclusion. As Vernā Meyers puts it, "diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance." Research highlights the significance of inclusion within the workforce not just for employee wellness but also in terms of productivity, with employees who felt a strong sense of belonging obtaining a 56% higher attainment in overall job performance [2].

As part of FISV's Mindful Growth series, we recently hosted a workshop that explored how our portfolio could achieve inclusive leadership, even if they identified as coming from a position of privilege. Our guest speaker was executive performance coach and consultant Vanessa Sekhon, an expert in creating inclusive environments.

Vanessa addresses common challenges faced by leaders and highlighted how, alongside diversity efforts, leaders need to establish a culture of inclusion, exploring how this can be achieved. A key focus of the session was the importance of laying the foundations of psychological safety in order to foster belonging and inclusion. We explore this and Vanessa’s other tips for founders on how they can foster inclusion below.


Establish psychological safety to set the stage for success in the future


Invite participation and create feedback loops


Build a continuous sense of belonging as a leader

Establish psychological safety to set the stage for success in the future

Time is often spent focusing on building out a talent pipeline, but if you have a leaky system, then you will fail to build an environment where diverse talent will grow and stay. The right environment needs to be established for open and sometimes difficult conversations to happen.

“Psychological safety is a key factor in healthy teams. A leader’s job - whether at the top of an organisation or somewhere in the middle - is to create a safe space for people to speak up, make mistakes, and bring their full selves to work.”

- Amy Edmondson

So, how can leaders proactively create safe psychological environments?

  1. Communicate with your leadership team

    You will need their buy-in. Ensure you bring them into the fold and make it known as a clear priority for the company.

  2. Be authentic and transparent

    Ensure you are openly talking about D&I and showcasing that it’s something you and the business are invested in. Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to be vulnerable in these conversations and should highlight that, although they may not have all the answers currently, they are committed to working through problems and finding solutions.

  3. Understand your own role

    Science shows that for every 45 minutes of accrued sleep debt, there is a 5–10% loss in mental control performance the next day [3]. Sleep-deprived leaders are less likely to be ranked by subordinates as creating a psychologically safe environment. This emotional dysregulation caused by stress and lack of sleep hinders how others percieve you, therefore being mindful of regulating your physiology is key to leading others more effectively and creating more inclusive environments

Invite participation and create feedback loops

These will show what needs to be addressed and the path to get there.

  1. Gather the data

    Create tracking systems to monitor the gaps and ensure you are gathering the right data and metrics for your company. Schedule progress check-ins to reflect and reassess at a cadence that’s suitable to your pace of company growth. You should also consider the touchpoints you keep to ensure that people feel connected and included.

  2. Have conversations

    Dig into the data at all levels to fully understand human sentiment. Listening is the priority, and avoiding responding with answers and judgements is key to the discussion. Ask employees for their opinions on D&I proposals; studies show that people are more likely to buy-in to a solution if leaders have asked around for an answer and there was given a fair process, even if it’s not what they suggested [4].

Build a continuous sense of belonging as a leader

  1. Connect with people who are different to you

    Find similarities and promote the need being met around what you have in common, using HR to help join the dots on where those similarities are. Brene Brown [5] highlights that true belonging is being embraced for our authentic selves. Leaders may put up a façade, but when they listen, take down the guard, and ask for help, people feel more connected to them.

  2. Take an interest in people’s interests

    Actively listen to their solutions to foster an environment where failure is not stigmatised. Consider how you can structure these connection points in your processes. For example, creating clubs or utilising an offsite to build connections below the surface of the office environment.