Future proofing leaders: moving from Unconscious Bias to Inclusive Leadership

Posted on August 31st 2017 by Hayley Barnard

“I don’t want to hear about the problem, I want the solution.”

Have you ever had a boss who has confronted you with this comment?

We’re all busy. Leaders and people managers are especially busy. Time is the enemy. We want solutions and rightly so. Yet when it comes to diversity and inclusion it seems we are often stuck discussing the problem (principally unconscious bias) rather than the solution.

A few years ago, I was sitting in on a half day training session on Unconscious Bias. The trainer spent nearly three hours telling everyone about their biases and then spent 10 minutes at the end going through a six-bullet-point list about how to be more inclusive. It was weighted too heavily towards the problem rather than the solution.

I left feeling more divided from the people around me and with more guilt.

Do I believe that training leaders and people managers to be aware of the barriers to inclusion is important? Absolutely. Awareness of our unconscious bias and automatic people preferences is the first rung of the ladder. But there are plenty more rungs on the ladder and we all aspire to reach the top, where our teams are balanced, everyone is able to contribute fully, and our business/organisation can thrive.

As someone who comes at Diversity and Inclusion from a communications and marketing background rather than an HR background, I question the way we talk about this topic – particularly when it comes to Unconscious Bias.

I propose that we focus on developing ‘inclusive leadership skills’ that build on strengths rather than being blindsided by faults. These are ‘advanced leadership skills’. They ‘future-proof leaders’ in this ever-changing world in which diversity is a given, but inclusion is an option.

Let’s start focusing on solutions rather than the problem.

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The School for CEOs is hosting a free webinar on Inclusive Leadership with Hayley Barnard – sign up via their website.