Businesses must “sit up and think what they are going to do” about large sections of the UK and global population feeling “forgotten about and scared”, according to O2 HRD Ann Pickering.
Speaking at the HR Directors Summit in Birmingham during a panel discussion on inclusivity to inspire innovation and growth, Pickering said: “I think it’s probably clear that within the UK Brexit was the result of people feeling forgotten about and scared… I think it’s really important an organisation is plugged into what’s going on in the world and what that means for them, how that affects [their] employees.”
Strategic director and senior manager at NHS England Masqood Ahmad agreed that inclusivity now needs to extend beyond the people an organisation employs.
He cited the examples of young white men in Middlesborough “who feel completely left out of the system and employment”, and Bangladeshi women in Oldham who also currently have limited employment opportunities. "It is both private and public sector organisations’ responsibility to connect with these people in their local communities, and consider how in future they might employ typically excluded or isolated demographics," he said.
“I think it’s important we connect with places as well as the people [in our organisations],” added Ahmad. “What are the social connections we need to create? How do we get [disengaged communities] into working for our organisations? Because what they see is people coming from the outside, from around the world even, and getting employed in Greater Manchester.
“There’s nothing wrong with employing people from around the world, but we need to connect with people locally too. We need local ‘connectability' as well as global."
The panel discussed the most important traits to inclusive leadership. Ahmad cited passion. “If leaders don’t have passion for inclusivity then I don’t think it works, it gets into a tick-box exercise” he said.
He added: “Our leaders need to have the passion to make the difference, they have to believe they’re doing good for society… If passion isn’t there they become dry leaders; anybody could do that job”.
Also speaking on the panel head of D&I, EMEA at Google, Chuck Stephens cited “proximity” to staff, or rather leaders knowing their team really well.
“There are two questions I’d never ask: I’d never ask if someone is pregnant or if someone is gay. Other than that it’s fair game; we have to get past this notion of being politically correct,” he said. “We need to understand people’s fears and desires. Until we have those difficult conversations I think we’re only going to skim the surface like a stone.”
Ahmad agreed that the best leaders are those who take time out to “have a dialogue” in person rather than just by email. “Some leaders will come to me and ask 'what’s it like for you as an Asian Muslim man in our organisation', and some won’t,” he said. “It’s about finding out about stuff because we all come from very different backgrounds and you don’t know unless you have that dialogue.”
The hallmark of an inclusive leader for Pickering was trust. “I don’t think you can be a great leader unless you’re trusted,” she said. “It takes a long time to earn and can disappear in an instant. Leaders might have the best vision and three-year plan, communication might be fabulous, but if there’s no trust you’ll fail.”
In a separate talk at the HRD Summit, chief people officer at the Civil Service Rupert McNeil said inclusion is "one of the best indicators we are getting leadership right".
McNeil talked on his organisation’s target to be the most inclusive in the UK by 2020. “We are no different from customer-facing organisations in that we have to be representative of our customers, which means we’ve got to make sure the senior-level population is representative of the UK population,” he said. “We’re making progress but there’s still some areas woefully under-represented… we have very little black British representation at a senior level."
McNeil explained that the Civil Service’s inclusivity drive is about professional background and experience as well as gender or race. Across the Civil Service most jobs are operationally focused, but among the top 4,000 leaders only 16% are from the operational side, with 30% from a policy background.
“That is not a sustainable model,” he said. “It shows our system isn’t working unless we have good representation from all groups.”
McNeil also spoke about the importance of creating tomorrow’s leaders. “If I was designing the Civil Service in 1918 I’d need to be thinking about the 1940s; how to ensure we have the right leaders through WWII,” he said. “Which means today I’m not worried about Brexit or after Brexit, but what happens after that.
“It’s good getting up in the morning knowing ultimately that the system I’m in charge of is creating leaders fit for the 2040s and '50s.”