Skip to content
ICE Community blog

Do quotas work? 10 tips for inclusive leadership

09 October 2023

Richard Burleigh, past ICE Council member, offers best practice advice on how to improve inclusiveness in leadership.

Do quotas work? 10 tips for inclusive leadership
Quotas can lead to a dilution of talent. Image credit: Shutterstock

Today more and more organisations are rightly championing the promotion of diversity and inclusion within their management structures.

They very often name a senior executive with this responsibility at management team or board level.

This is commendable and demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to addressing this imbalance in our business environment, which is especially important in sectors such as ours.

However, it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to just publish a diversity policy

Promoting diversity and inclusion puts a special challenge on the shoulders of leaders at every organisational level to take the agenda forward.

It’s important that an organisation’s leadership development priorities reflect this.

It’s not enough to just publish a company policy about diversity and inclusion and expect things to happen automatically.

Successful leaders know very well how their day-to-day leadership behaviours are key defining factors in successfully delivering their organisation’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The problem with quotas

So, what does all this mean in practice?

Well, I don’t believe that the answer lies in creating quotas for, as an example, gender balance or minority groups.

In my experience, this tends to lead to a dilution of talent since people are promoted for reasons that don’t take full account of competence.

It also can generate frustration in the workplace when people feel that others are progressing unfairly.

Rather, it’s about establishing a workplace culture of inclusiveness where everyone feels they belong irrespective of their gender, race, nationality, gender-orientation, etc.

When such a culture is truly established, then talent development can flourish unhindered by any well-intentioned but unhelpful barriers.

For any leader, this is a demanding challenge.

Tips to help leaders promote inclusiveness in their teams

So, while I don’t possess all of the answers, here are some of my tips for leaders wishing to promote a culture of inclusiveness in their teams:

  1. Ditch quotas or KPIs related to, for example, gender balance at management level – this might be controversial, but I believe this to be a distraction.
  2. Communicate very clear expectations to your team for which behaviours you expect from them.
  3. Explain WHY a culture of inclusiveness is important to you (and not only because it’s the company’s policy) and what are the benefits for the team and the company.
  4. Don’t try to create rules for every imaginable scenario, guide your team with principles and encourage them to make their own judgements.
  5. Set an example with your own behaviour – and work to increase your self-awareness to help you identify your blind spots. Leaders are closely scrutinised by their teams and any behaviours that are out of sync with your words are quickly noted.
  6. Act quickly and firmly on unacceptable behaviours. If you don’t, you’re actually affirming these unacceptable behaviours as being OK.
  7. Encourage open and fear-free discussions within your team about what you are together trying to achieve.
  8. Don’t overstress yourself to get everything right. There will be mistakes, so openly admit them and make corrective action. No one expects you to be superhuman, but people do expect consistency.
  9. Be practical: you still have a job to do.
  10. To use a common cliche, this is a marathon not a sprint. Building a culture takes time so be patient but don’t give up – the prize is well worth it!

Remember diversity in the workplace is a fact - but inclusion is a choice.

What choices are you making?

Access the ICE's Anti-Racism Toolkit

The ICE has published a second version of its Anti-Racism Toolkit to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

The aim of the toolkit is to offer a voice to the lived experiences of the ICE’s Black and minority ethnic members. It seeks to ensure that civil engineering is an industry that is representative of those who work in it.

It’s no longer enough to be non-racist or not overtly offensive. The ICE calls for the industry to treat racism the same way it treats a health and safety issue – stop and report it.

The Anti-Racism Toolkit

  • Richard Burleigh, coach and President's Future Leaders group mentor