All employees have a part to play in developing and maintaining an inclusive culture. However, leaders have a particularly critical role to play as employees will look to them for an indication of what is acceptable and what is the norm.

The DLG Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering Survey Report 2015 asked organisations specifically about the role that leaders play in terms of diversity and inclusion.

The strong consensus was that engaging senior leaders is essential for progress on diversity and inclusion, with 63% of respondents identifying the chief executive as being overall accountable for the success of any diversity strategy. In 67% of organisations, there is also a diversity champion, and in 78% of organisations senior leaders speak publicly about the importance of diversity to the business. Indeed, communications from senior leaders are the most likely vehicle for communicating the business case (in 75% of organisations). There are still challenges for organisations in this area: 42% believe that they need more consistent and visible leadership on diversity and inclusion. But the fact that learning and development on diversity and inclusion for leaders is the second most predominant learning and development activity suggests that organisations recognise that meeting this challenge will be crucial to progress.

Important questions for organisations are therefore:

  • How can we ensure that senior leaders understand why diversity and inclusion is important to our organisation?
  • How can we ensure that the most senior members of our organisation are fully involved and engaged in developing out diversity strategy?
  • How can senior leaders demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion to the rest of the organisation?
  • How can we encourage senior leaders to effectively role model inclusive leadership behaviours?

What does an effective leadership model look like?

Business psychologists at Pearn Kandola have carried out extensive research into the key behaviours that leaders can use to create an inclusive culture. From this, they have developed leadership model below, which highlights three main competencies as being critical for inclusive leaders to role model. 

Use this model to raise leaders’ awareness of what ‘inclusive leadership’ means, the behaviours they are required to role model and how to do this. A good starting point is to ask leaders, their direct reports and the employees who report to their direct reports  to provide feedback on their/their leader’s behaviour in relation to the inclusive leader behaviours. This will help leaders to understand their key inclusive leader strengths and development areas.


Inclusive leaders proactively create a culture in which people feel they are safe to speak up and give their honest opinions and where each team member feels they have something valuable to contribute to the team. Inclusive team leaders also encourage their team members to work for and support each other.


Inclusive leaders take time to get to know each team member and value their individual contributions. They create wide, diverse networks and help their team members to do the same. Inclusive leaders also take time to support underrepresented employees.

Decision making

Inclusive leaders have a clear understanding of their own unconscious biases and take action to ensure these biases are not influencing the decisions they make. Inclusive leaders also take time to make decisions about people, avoiding acting on gut instinct or intuition. They are open to suggestions about different ways of doing things and are flexible in their personal style and approach.