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Inclusive leadership: why there's no one-size-fits-all

02 March 2023

Roni Savage explains how keeping inclusion at heart in your management approach benefits the entire organisation.

Inclusive leadership: why there's no one-size-fits-all
We need inclusive leaders because they empower those around them. Image credit: Roni Savage

As founder and CEO of Jomas Associates, and an ICE fellow, I approach management with inclusion at the forefront of my decision making.

But what does this mean? And what does it look like?

I recently sat down for a chat with the ICE, and these are the key points that emerged from that discussion.

What is inclusive leadership?

Inclusive leadership is very simple – it's about listening.

It’s about opening your mind as a leader and listening to the ideas, opinions and feelings of your team, but also your stakeholders.

By actively listening and being aware of your biases – conscious and unconscious – you'll be less likely to have preconceived notions about people because of how they present themselves, or their gender, race, culture, religion, sexuality, disability, and so on.

In doing so, you’ll treat everyone as an individual and will be able to recognise their individual strengths and challenges that they need support with.

That’s why listening is so important – inclusive leaders are in listening mode rather than speaking mode.

Why do we need inclusive leaders?

We need inclusive leaders because they empower those around them and make them part of the decision-making process.

When you work with an inclusive leader, they make you feel like your opinion counts, that you’re good at what you do.

By doing that, the person will perform better.

This creates a team that’s happier to be at work, that feels more fulfilled, thus enabling growth for the people and the organisation as a whole.

How can inclusive leadership benefit an organisation?

Inclusive leadership will benefit the organisation because team members will perform better overall.

Inclusive leaders give their team courage, boost their confidence. These are really important factors when it comes to productivity.

Your team may have technical knowledge, but they also need confidence.

Being empowered will reduce how often they come to the leader asking questions they already know the answers to.

And since the perspectives of the whole team are taken into account, the organisation doesn’t rely on one person to make the decisions.

Inclusive leaders also consider the factors that make people present in a certain way. When making decisions, these factors are considered, and it enables the leader to maximise people’s potential because they understand their team better.

This leads to a more productive team that has the courage to deliver.

Who inspired you to be an inclusive leader?

My inspiration comes primarily from my family and my upbringing.

But I was also inspired by my former line manager from approximately 20 years ago. He was just phenomenal in creating an environment where I was able to perform at my optimum because of his leadership style.

The experiences I was afforded were such that I didn’t see myself as different, and I was empowered to feel like I deserved my seat at the grand table.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone at times, and given opportunities to propel my career, knowing I had support around me if I ever got stuck.

Talent was encouraged and acknowledged. I was listened to. And for me, that’s what inclusive leadership is.

What are the challenges of inclusive leadership?

The biggest challenge, which rarely happens, is that somebody takes advantage.

Historically, leaders are presented a certain way because they don’t want to appear vulnerable.

I personally have an open-door policy.

I am an inclusive leader, who is happy to hear directly from all members of my team.

Ultimately, there is a support hierarchy which is important, but the team know they can come to me where necessary.

It’s importance to get the balance right.

How do you find this balance?

Boundaries are necessary, and most people respect that, even as you share a good rapport with the team.

You must understand yourself and your team, as there isn’t a one size fits all approach in terms of inclusivity. Every individual should be treated on their own merits.

How do you make improving representation not like a box-ticking exercise?

It’s not a box-ticking exercise when it’s in your heart. The approach to inclusivity should be about fairness, allowing for equity. Think ‘how would I feel if I were in your shoes’.

There’s talent everywhere, and opportunity must follow talent. Ticking a box just doesn’t work.

For example

When you step on a stage for the first time to give a speech in front of a thousand people, you might be terribly afraid.

But when you’ve done it 100 times, you can walk on that stage and not be scared anymore.

The bottom line is that when you’re interviewing someone who is doing something for the first time, you cannot directly compare them to someone who’s done it 100 times.

That person who’s doing it for the first time, once they’ve been exposed to say 10 or 20 opportunities, could perform better than the person who’s already done it 100 times?

That’s equity.

Think about the bigger picture and the opportunities that people have had, and how they would perform if they’d had the same opportunities.

Make sure you’re hiring people because they’re talented and qualified and because you understand the different things that they can bring to the table.

It's also not just about the leader going into a recruiting process with an open mind, it's about attracting and bringing others along as part of that process to help with the recruitment.

How do you find an inclusive leader?

Explore the open mindedness of people.

The best way to do this, in an interview setting for example, is to use scenario-setting questions.

Questions like:

  • If somebody said this to you... what would you do?
  • If you were in this position at work... what would you do?
  • If you witnessed this... what would you do?

'Equity, diversity and inclusion are a solution – not a problem’

Companies with diverse workforces perform better.

We know that there is a skills shortage in the construction industry with over 40,000 current vacancies.

We also know that we’re not attracting enough diversity in engineering – 16% of the industry is female, 4% is from ethnic minority background. This doesn’t mirror the demographics of our country.

By attracting people that normally wouldn’t be attracted to this industry, we’re solving the skills shortage, and enabling companies to perform better.

We want barriers lifted for anyone who may be interested in engineering and construction.

Because above all, it’s the right thing to do!

ICE mentoring platform

The ICE’s mentoring service is designed to match members who are looking for mentors with those who offer their mentoring, based on expertise and skills.

It offers online resources, advice and guidance to help you make the most of the mentoring experience.

Mentor with the ICE

  • Roni Savage, ceo and managing director at Jomas Associates