D&I Clinic: Ask all the right questions

Q: How can HR and diversity and inclusion (D&I) teams encourage senior leadership buy-in?

There’s an expectation, an unfair one at that, for business leaders to be infallible; positioned for their knowledge, decisiveness and unbeatable success record.

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Yet when it comes to understanding D&I, few will have lived the broad experiences of their colleagues and their knowledge is unlikely to compare. In my experience, it’s the leaders that are willing to divulge these vulnerabilities that see the most exceptional results.

Admitting our struggles and shortcomings is instrumental in resolving conflicts, strengthening relationships and developing our personal and professional growth. Only recently, following the successful launch of my Menopause Awareness Scheme, did I witness this in action.

In a themed podcast, I invited a managing director along to discuss the physical, mental and social fallout of the menopause – all with an entirely deliberate frankness.

My guest, in turning a once-taboo subject into an entirely mutual conversation, remarked to me, in the week since the podcast’s release, that she had been approached by other colleagues both for advice and for a sympathetic ear.

Ultimately, her voice impacted those around her, personally and professionally.

In the context of D&I this willingness to learn and to divulge is the key to supportive allyship. Public awareness around pronouns, gender identity and LGBT+ has grown through the efforts of allies, and with that has come some remarkable societal progress.

Embracing the human instinct to empathise, to understand, and to educate one another can only take that progress further.

When leaders for gender equality, diversity and representation approach me with such questions as ‘how do I become an ally?’ I don’t see a failure in leadership.

Rather, I see someone dedicated to their role, with the grace to recognise their limits and the humility to approach their peers for assistance.

In setting this precedent, a leader demonstrates that a lack of knowledge isn’t a failing, and that enquiring minds are the most rewarded.

Of course, a leader should have at least some competence or knowledge in their field, but that’s not the true measure of their abilities: their relationship with people is.

In the rapidly accelerating movement for social equality, only those who maintain a platform for their employees will succeed. People who continue to ask questions will be the most currently informed. Those who speak to the most people will have the broadest view of their community.

A leader is so called for the example they set to others. They recognise that the toughest questions are best answered through human connection. They demonstrate investment in those they represent.

A D&I initiative is destined to crumble if the motive is to have all the right answers. What better way to demonstrate your motive than to instead ask all the right questions?


Kat Parsons is head of diversity, inclusion & belonging at ISS


The D&I Clinic is a space for HR professionals to anonymously air their challenging D&I questions. Send questions for the next one to jo.gallacher@markallengroup.com

The full piece of the above appears in the September/October 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.