The pitfalls of inclusive leadership

You may have good intentions, but don't presume it's working, says the Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Hayaatun Sillem.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 21 Feb 2019

Inclusive leadership sounds suspiciously like a no-brainer – if you’re not being inclusive of all the people who work for you, you must be excluding some of them, and that’s just bad management. Very few leaders are likely to believe it applies to them.

Unfortunately, assuming you’re inclusive doesn’t mean you actually are. This is a subject that Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Hayaatun Sillem takes very seriously. 


"As someone who comes from a lot of different minority groups, my whole experience has been trying to compensate for cultures that aren’t always inclusive. It’s made me acutely aware of difference.

"It’s important to focus on inclusion as well as diversity. If you talk endlessly about diversity  in a profession like engineering, which is 90% male and over 90% white, you can create the perception in the majority group that you just don’t want people like them, which is a gross oversimplification and quite a negative way of engaging with them.

"Although it’s just good leadership to make sure everyone feels they are welcome and can make a full contribution, you can’t assume everyone gets why inclusion is a good thing. There’s lots of evidence of generic business benefits to diverse and inclusive organisations, but you need to articulate the business case to your particular organisation, in its language and culture.

"In the past five to 10 years, there’s been a noticeable shift whereby diversity and inclusion has moved from the outer orbit to the core of what boards consider essential to success.

"But while there’s been positive incremental change, you can forget that systemic change is possible. We should be ambitious. If there’s a 1% increase in women pursuing engineering careers, for example, it will take generations [to reach parity]. It’s 2019 – that’s just not acceptable."

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