ChannelLife Australia - Industry insider news for technology resellers
Story image
IWD 2024: Seats at the table: How leaders can inspire inclusion at every level
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

As business leaders, our successes are often determined not only by the plans and strategies that we chart out but also by the actions that make them possible. As we reflect on this year’s International Women’s Day theme – Inspire Inclusion – and the tech industry’s progress on this front, it’s important to remember that our commitment to values like diversity, equity and inclusion should go beyond the aspirational. Where inclusivity is concerned, leaders need to be more intentional and proactive when it comes to sharing the metaphorical seat at the table – that is, amplifying the voices of employees and fellow colleagues at the workplace.

Inclusivity is no longer a “nice-to-have” but a business imperative
As the world continues to make meaningful steps towards progress, gone are the days when “inclusivity” and “diversity” were simply buzzwords that companies looked to tag onto their business priorities. We now live in a time where these priorities have become necessities crucial to business growth.

The case for inclusivity is strong and plenty. More than ever, companies are investing in inclusive workplace cultures because they have proven benefits for employees and employers alike. Workplaces that embrace inclusivity have broader pools of talent, and such diversity allows for greater collaboration, innovation and productivity. Leaders who earnestly support and engage with their people will see greater employee satisfaction and retention, which often leads to a more positive workplace culture and improved financial performance. 

In tech, we are quick to move on from processes that are obsolete, and we should apply that mindset here as well. Leaders who are still cynical or remain resistant to change will ultimately be the ones who get left behind.

From lip service to accountable action
Yet, even as the business case for inclusion becomes increasingly evident, there still remain considerable gaps when it comes to a basic tenet of equality – wages.

As companies look to inspire inclusivity, they must move beyond mere promises and talk towards clear, accountable steps that foster a truly inclusive workplace environment. This involves seriously reassessing existing systems and structures – and even committing to organisational audits if necessary – before developing policies and practices that are more comprehensive and reflective of the present-day realities of their workers.

At every step of the way, it is important that leaders establish mechanisms for accountability, ensuring that goals are met and are not carved out merely for lip service. Only by prioritising these actions can leaders demonstrate a genuine commitment to inspiring inclusivity within their organisations and to the wider industry.

How flexibility nurtures inclusivity
On top of important considerations like pay, employment and representation, I’ve found that what has been crucial in inspiring inclusivity is building an overarching culture that not only recognises but also meets employees’ diverse needs.

Take flexible work arrangements as a very real example of how companies can balance the needs of their business with those of their individual employees. In 2024, the concept of flexible work arrangements cannot be left out of conversations surrounding inclusivity. It should not be treated as a relic of the pandemic but rather as the new norm – one that can have a significantly positive impact on companies, employees, and women in particular

Leading as a woman is challenging on its own, but balancing motherhood adds another layer of complexity. The events from the last few years have proven that flexibility is particularly helpful to working parents, caretakers, and workers of different abilities. Parents get to balance their professional responsibilities and family commitments more efficiently, while the very nature of flexible work affords different employees the ability to make necessary adjustments and accommodations to the way they approach work. Offering flexibility via remote work options, adaptable schedules, and innovative technology can create a working environment that is respectful and supportive of diverse needs, which provides employees with better work-life balance and improved mental health. This will promote a stronger sense of belonging, foster employee loyalty, and lead to productivity gains.

Flexibility is an integral part of an inclusivity strategy that goes beyond mere lip service and genuinely caters to the individual needs of employees. It ensures they are adequately supported to bring their best selves – and best contributions – to the workplace. In addition to being more discerning and having empathy on an individual, day-to-day basis, leaders should tailor company-level support mechanisms to address employees’ diverse needs, empowering them to achieve a work-life balance that meaningfully aligns with their individual circumstances. This is important because every employee’s lived experiences will ultimately influence how they approach their professional lives.

Leaders, not “women leaders”
Even as businesses look to inspire inclusivity on a broader level, they cannot ignore the individual challenges facing specific, traditionally underserved groups of employees. For instance, as I advanced in my career and assumed leadership roles, I noticed a significant lack of representation for women -- particularly women of colour -- in the boardroom. As we approach International Women’s Day, companies have even more impetus to evaluate how they are making moves to elevate women in the workplace and level the playing field in that regard.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve made enough progress simply because we’ve made some progress. Indeed, women’s roles as leaders are increasingly being recognised in the Asia Pacific region, according to UN Women. While both men and women are advocating for increased female representation in leadership positions, as well as in roles within Tech/Data and AI, merely imposing a gender quota would simply undermine the progress we’ve made. Companies should remain steadfast in their dedication to inclusivity by continuing to empower women in leadership roles. This involves not only providing equal opportunities for all but also facilitating and supporting employees’ contributions within as well as outside the organisation. It involves promoting gender parity with initiatives such as paternity leaves and addressing unconscious biases, including the perception that maternity leave is akin to a vacation. By breaking down barriers and showing earnest support, companies can help influence and shape a more inclusive corporate landscape and contribute to a wider cultural shift where “women leaders” are simply recognised as leaders and where every employee feels empowered to raise their voice and uplift those around them.