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Janet Elizabeth James

October 24th, 2023

Navigating the Inclusion Quotient for Senior Leaders and in the Strategic Decision-Making Process

3 comments | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Janet Elizabeth James

October 24th, 2023

Navigating the Inclusion Quotient for Senior Leaders and in the Strategic Decision-Making Process

3 comments | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The Inclusion Quotient: Why it Matters 

In the dynamic landscape of modern organisations, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has emerged as a critical strategic imperative. Its profound influence on employee engagement, innovation, growth, and the very essence of an organisation’s brand is now widely acknowledged. Studies in both academia and business affirm that senior leaders wield exponential influence in nurturing and propelling inclusion across the organisation, making them a vital lynchpin for the success of any D&I  initiative. Furthermore, within the realm of strategic decision-making—a domain where senior leaders hold a pivotal role—fostering inclusion is not merely advantageous but essential. It serves as the bedrock for cultivating high levels of collaborative engagement and consensus-building among the diverse stakeholders involved in the process.

I selected this research topic because, despite the pivotal role that senior leaders play, there exists a dearth of comprehensive studies on their own experience of inclusion and the authentic practice of inclusion in strategic decision-making. This gap underscores the significance of my research.

Unearthing Insights: The Research Approach

The key findings were unearthed through a rigorous process of thematic analysis, woven together from in-depth, semi-structured interviews. These enlightening conversations were conducted with a carefully curated diverse cohort of fifteen seasoned senior leaders.

Among this diverse group, fourteen leaders hailed from various consulting firms and companies spanning industries across the US, UK, the Middle East, and India. Each stands at the helm of their respective domains, reporting directly to the Top Management Team. Their leadership positions span across core business departments, such as Operations and Sales, as well as pivotal enabling functions like Human Resources and Information Technology.

To infuse a distinctive perspective, I also intentionally introduced a leader with a political background in the US. This addition provided a unique vantage point, hailing from a realm vastly different from the corporate arena, that of politics.

This carefully curated sample size represents a rich tapestry of genders, nationalities, ethnicities, industries, and geographic locations. This wide-ranging selection offered a strategic and nuanced understanding of a topic that had not been researched in detail before.

Unveiling Hidden Realities: Key Findings

My research revealed that a substantial number of senior leaders experienced a heightened sense of exclusion rather than inclusion and that limited inclusion was practiced in strategic decision-making!

Organisational Culture

One of the cornerstone revelations from my research is the profound role that organisational culture plays in both enabling and stifling inclusion. This intricate tapestry, woven from organisational strategy and structure, emerges as the primary force in driving or deterring inclusion. When steeped in dishonesty, trust deficits, and a lack of psychological safety among their peers and leaders, the culture took on a toxic hue, hindering the inclusive spirit.

An unclear strategy and conflicting strategic priorities were found to be formidable barriers to inclusion. This landscape of uncertainty could often lead to fragmented decision-making, further limiting the prospects of genuine inclusion for senior leaders and in strategic decision-making.

Unorganised or informal structures often paved the way for the dominance of global and local power centers, driving a wedge between departments and siloing decision-making. It’s a tug of power that can bind or rupture the bonds of inclusion.

The Leadership’s Dual Role

Executive leadership behaviours emerged as a secondary, yet pivotal influencer. Actions like building personal connections, fostering open and transparent communication, and championing participatory decision-making played a dual role, at times enabling and at other times obstructing the path to inclusion.

The Self-Driven Catalysts

My research unearthed an interesting revelation: the primary drivers of senior leaders’ inclusion were predominantly self-propelled. Their intrinsic personal drive, moral integrity, penchant for connection, and collaborative spirit emerged as the driving forces behind their sense of inclusion. This underscores the profound impact of individual agency in shaping inclusive environments.

These findings spotlight the collective intricacies and pivotal role of organisational culture, executive leader, and individual leader behaviours in shaping and practising inclusion for senior leaders and in the strategic decision-making process.

Future Research Endeavours

There’s a clear need for future studies on specific inclusive systems and programs, and integration strategies that promote both belongingness and uniqueness at an interpersonal and organisational level will be critical. Further research is also required on the interplay and required integration between inclusion and strategic decision-making and ways to cultivate a value-driven inclusive culture for this critical group accountable for fostering inclusion across the organisation.

Empowering Recommendations for Practitioners

The concern over the lack of inclusion for senior leaders, its reverberating impact on organisational vitality, and employee well-being cannot be overstated. According to my research, the adverse impact of exclusion for senior leaders manifests in reduced commitment to the organisation’s mission, delays in pivotal strategic decisions heightened detachment and stress levels, and a palpable stagnation in career progression!

Enhancing the inclusive quotient for senior leaders needs to be a concerted effort of the executive leadership team, underpinned by strategic initiatives such as:

Equal Footing in Decision-Making

  • Ensuring all senior leaders have an equitable voice in strategic decisions is a cornerstone of inclusive leadership.

Cultivating Personal Connections

  • Establishing one-on-one connections allows for a deeper understanding of individual perspectives and strengthens the bonds that bind the leadership team.

Nurturing Intimate, Open Dialogues

  • Establishing a safe space for open dialogue and candid discussions among senior leaders encourages the free flow of diverse ideas and perspectives and fosters a culture of trust and transparency.

Reimagining Organisational Structure

  • Periodically reassessing the organisational structure ensures that it remains aligned with the evolving needs of an inclusive culture.

Catalysing Change Programs

  • Implementing targeted sponsorship, mentorship, and allyship programs exclusively for senior leaders provides crucial advocacy and forges invaluable alliances.

Ultimately, inclusion must permeate the very DNA and fabric of the organisation, manifesting itself in daily interactions. Only then does it become an innate part of the organisational culture, shaping a future where senior leaders thrive in an environment that truly promotes belongingness whilst valuing their uniqueness and reshaping the narrative of authentic inclusion across the organisation.

About the author

Janet Elizabeth James

Janet Elizabeth James is a current MSc Human Resources and Organisations (HRO) student who completed her dissertation titled: 'Inclusion at Senior Leadership Levels and in Strategic Decision Making'.

Posted In: MSc Research Series