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The importance of diverse and inclusive leadership

When Alison spoke of her experience of child sexual abuse, the atmosphere in the room changed. Not only did people sit up and listen, but I think people felt more comfortable, knowing this was a safe space in which we could be honest and vulnerable. This is the kind of example a leader can set, the kind of environment they can create.

As a young woman of colour who’s just joined the charity sector as an intern, I can’t begin to explain what it meant to hear Alison Lowe, a CEO who is a black woman, speaking of her journey so honestly. My transition into the third sector straight out of university has been at times uncertain. So to see someone much further ahead in their journey, who I could actually relate to, was comforting to say the least.

In October I went to Hull for a Clore Social chapter meeting. Going in I didn’t really know what to expect, I knew I’d be meeting Clore Social fellows and alumni. I also knew there was going to be a guest speaker, but truthfully, I didn’t expect the talk to have much of an impact on me, or how I think of leadership.

So imagine my surprise when Alison started talking about being one of the few black people on her estate growing up, and the racism she faced. I suddenly felt strangely (but maybe not surprisingly) anxious. Anxious because I thought, will people take her less seriously now? Will this (largely white) audience think she’s playing the “race card”?

I could tell people appreciated how frankly she spoke of her experience. They asked a lot of insightful questions afterwards, mainly about how to encourage people of colour and other minority groups to apply for jobs at their charities. To be honest, this surprised me because it feels like race is still the elephant in a very white room.

But Alison made people feel comfortable discussing race, maybe when they normally wouldn’t be.

But Alison made people feel comfortable discussing race, maybe when they normally wouldn’t be.

Diverse and inclusive leadership is important. I think part of being a leader means people look to you for direction and will follow by example. This was clear to me when I saw the shift in the dynamic of the room first when Alison spoke about child sexual abuse, and again when she brought up racism. People took this as a cue to speak more openly and allow themselves to be vulnerable.

In hearing Alison speak, I saw her practising so many things I’ve realised an inclusive leader should be doing. In her honest dialogue, she gave others a space to feel safe speaking openly.

The road to diversity and inclusion is paved with uncomfortable conversations.

The road to diversity and inclusion is paved with uncomfortable conversations. But when directed by a leader who creates an environment to accommodate these growing pains, like Alison did, real change can take place.

It’s possible that efforts to increase diversity in the charity sector will seem tokenistic if they aren’t accompanied by inclusive leadership. At one point Alison mentioned wondering if her workplace would be safe for her own children, who are both LGBT+. This for me is one of the most important things leaders need to be considering in their workplaces.

There’s no point congratulating ourselves on how diverse we are, if we aren’t supporting those who provide the diversity in our workplace.

There’s no point congratulating ourselves on how diverse we are, if we aren’t actively supporting those people who provide the diversity in our workplace.

I know before starting my role I was terrified of what seemed like the great unknown, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But two months in I’m less afraid and more determined to keep pushing for the change needed to make the third sector a less scary and more inclusive place.

Blog by Isha Negi, Engagement Intern at Clore Social Leadership

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