Inclusion and diversity programmes: the missing link

By Dr Diane Sinclair, @DianSinclair

Companies spend millions of dollars on inclusion and diversity programmes to create more diversity in their leadership teams, including getting more women at the top.  

 Managers at a certain level (not too senior as those folks are too busy) are put through training to identify their unconscious biases. The 'right' behaviours are incorporated into performance management systems and leadership competencies. Posters might appear in the cafeteria or office lift. 

Little changes. Perhaps a focus on female talent is driven by an HR Business Partner in the next promotion round, and one solitary woman gets a step up the ladder. She finds herself in a male-dominated environment with behaviours that she's uncomfortable with, and she resigns six months later, despite the success that she's brought to her function.  

Of course, this is the worst case scenario. But it does happen, and too often. There is movement in getting women into leadership roles, but progress is slow, particularly at the senior level. Professional Boards Forum BoardWatch reports that 16% of directors are women in the FTSE 250, and only 31 of the FTSE 250 have 30% or more women directors.

Companies are right to keep searching for the golden ticket on diversity. They need a diverse team of leaders to grow the bottom line. That team has to be as diverse as their current – and future – employee and customer populations. And we need more diversity among leaders so that we bring much-needed checks and balances into decision-making.

So what can companies do? What's next? Organisations must create environments where people can bring themselves to work. That's the ultimate diversity – for men and women. Where stereotypes – of employees, managers and leaders – get challenged and broken down.

How? By helping employees see their unconscious bias, not against others, but against themselves. We judge other people in the light of our self-image. In accepting ourselves, we naturally accept others. If you believe that you’re enough, why would you ever think that anyone else is not? This is where inclusion and diversity programs need to start: helping employees deal with their own fear and doubt, so that they can grow their empathy with others, and be part of company cultures that allow us to bring our diverse authentic selves to work.


Dr Diane Sinclair, previously global Employee Relations and Compliance Leader at Cisco, is a leadership and performance coach and Employee Relations Consultant.

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  • '(...) if you believe you are enough' i.e. if you have profound self knowledge as well as understanding acceptance of who you are. As a cross-cultural trainer I have often observed that these are precisely the self-awareness and self-acceptance workshops which should be seen as a (mandatory, and often missing!) prerequisite to any diversity and inclusion initiative. And, while on the topic of 'are you enough'- a talk to share: a 20-minute TED talk shot in Houston in 2010 that has been seen over 15 million times so far: .  Inspiring in many ways...Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.  

  • Anonymous

    It is interesting read even in western world still to break the barriers for women to be successful leaders.  I totally agree on what you said in the last paragraph of your article. In my experience, women do not support women in leadership  because of their poor self image. Yes diversity programs should start from building/empowering women first.. hopefully then women may have a better chance to be successful in their carriers.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Diane that if people are to be able to 'bring themselves to work', then the environment needs to be right.

    Unfortunately, in my view, many organisations are still wedded to the belief that their over-engineered performance management systems -which measure people against the same competencies in pursuit of the same goals - are both objective and fair. This can't be the case, as we're all different and talented in unique ways. These organisational processes arguably attach a higher value to 'sameness', rather than difference. No wonder then that women are heavily underrepresented at board level.

    The inspiring work of Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell at The Human Givens Institute offers a framework of organising ideas for change at a human level. In order to thrive, people need be in working environments which allow them to get their fundamental needs - for attention, privacy, status, achievement, meaning and purpose - properly met. Without systemic change, I think we'll be unlikely to create a climate which nurtures and fosters the development of postive self regard and unconditional regard for others.