On leadership and ostrich strategies, research from Cordelia Osewa-Ediae

On leadership and ostrich strategies

Posted on October 18, 2016

One of my favourite leadership quotes from Peter Drucker - ‘Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things’ - sums up how I see leadership. Leadership is often about tackling difficult but pertinent issues. With this in mind, my Fellowship research explores why social leaders must ensure they build inclusive workplaces which value diversity.

Inclusive workplaces welcome diverse talent; they do not discriminate against individuals on any basis including age, disability, sexual orientation, marriage, gender, race or religion. Such workplaces are important because they have been proven to contribute to social integration (social integration being the extent to which people interact with others who are different to themselves).¹

My Fellowship research involved interviewing five inspirational leaders who were identified by peers and colleagues as having consistently nurtured inclusive environments: Julie Bentley - Chief Executive, Girlguiding; Sharon White - Chief Executive, Ofcom; Simon Blake OBE - Chief Executive, NUS; Sue Owen - Permanent Secretary, DCMS and Tunde Ogungbesan - Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession, BBC. Inclusivity lessons from these leaders were highlighted for others who may seek to emulate them.

As we enter uncharted waters of what a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit might mean for the social sector, our work must continue to tackle the root causes of societal discord in a multicultural society. Unquestionably, as social integration has never been more important, there is a need to ensure that our work and workplaces are more inclusive.  

Leaders who wish to champion inclusion must avoid ostrich strategies which ignore the following:

  • That diversity is still absent in some of our workplaces.
  • Efforts to promote equality and diversity should aim to nurture inclusive workplaces.
  • Attempts to nurture inclusion will falter without measurable targets to evidence tangible progress.
  • Inclusive workplaces are critical to social integration.

On diversity:

Workplace diversity is about ensuring that people who work in an organisation are representative of the wider society². Even though progress has been made over the past few years, the reality is that certain groups are still excluded from many UK workplaces.³ As social leaders are people who lead change with a social purpose, the social sector should lead in ensuring that workplaces truly reflect wider society.

On inclusion and social integration:

With more organisations working to promote equality and diversity in the workplace, recognition must be paid to the fact that strategies which focus solely on championing equality and diversity are ostrich strategies as they fail to acknowledge the importance of inclusion.

As a first generation immigrant, workplaces have played a vital role in my social integration experience. An openly gay colleague and a manager - who just happened to have cystic fibrosis – were two amazing people who exemplified why difference should be valued and how talent was not monolithic. However, it was the fact that the working environment valued ‘difference’ that engendered a cohesive team.

A clarion call to avoid ostrich strategies:

While compelling evidence shows that a diverse workforce boosts innovation and stimulates productivity , my Fellowship research distinguishes between organisations that focus on developing a diverse workforce, and those that strive to nurture inclusive workplaces. This is because the latter not only makes good business sense, but it facilitates social integration and social mobility.

In today’s world, nurturing inclusion goes beyond being a ‘nice to have’ business consideration because  inclusive workplaces are critical to social cohesion. Despite the numerous challenges, workplace inclusion and social integration remain lofty ideals that we must aspire to. Leaders in the social sector should be exemplars of good practice.

Visit here for my Fellowship research which draws on inclusivity lessons from the five leaders interviewed to make eight practical recommendations for other leaders and managers seeking to nurture inclusive workplaces which contribute to social integration.


¹ ³ Social Integration Commission 2014. How integrated is modern Britain? Available at:  http://socialintegrationcommission.org.uk/SIC_Report_WEB.pdf

² Inclusive Employers. 2016. Inclusion, Diversity and Equality. Available at: https://www.inclusiveemployers.co.uk/about-us/inclusion-diversity-and-equality

 Hewlett, S. A.,  Marshall, M., Sherbin, L. 2013. How Diversity Can Drive Innovation. Harvard Business Review (online). Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation  


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Cordelia Osewa-Ediae

Cordelia Osewa-Ediae

Strategy Consultant and Programme Director

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