Diversity & Inclusion

The antidote to excluding women – how to create a culture of inclusion

Evy Fellas

Following my talk at Amazon London HQ to hundreds of male and female amazonians for International Women’s Day, I share my thoughts on creating a culture of inclusion and what inclusive leadership means.

As we approach international women’s day, in a post #metoo era, we may ask ourselves how the landscape is for women at work? You may be forgiven for thinking that there has been a lack of substantial progress. Indeed, it appears that women are still excluded at all parts of the talent cycle; from job advertisements that are written with male audiences in mind, selection biases in hiring procedures, to men in power putting more trust in subordinates who look like them and therefore more likely to give high profile projects and thus promotions.

It has been shown that men speak significantly more in meetings than women (up to 75%), women are interrupted in meetings (by both genders) significantly more than men. Even when women speak less, they are perceived to have spoken more. Male executives who speak more than their peers are viewed as more competent, while female executives are viewed as less competent.

Women are about half of all those employed in the EU and yet represent just 17% of senior executives. Among the largest publicly listed companies in the European Union (EU-28) in 2019, only 17.6% of executives and 6.9% of CEOs were women. In the US, women make up 44% of the workforce yet only 26% of senior manager positions and only 5% of CEOs.

In the U.S. disparities in pay relative to white men are largest for Latina women (58% of white men’s hourly earnings) and second-largest for Black women (65%), while white women have a pay gap of 82%.

An image of a woman sitting next to Amazon logo

What are we missing out on by not including Women?

The topic of gender diversity and inclusion (and D&I more broadly) has received more attention in recent years as these issues persist. It was announced in January of this year by Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon that the investment bank would not support companies to go public without at least one ‘diverse’ member on their board. He underlined his announcement with the finding that U.S. companies with at least one female director, perform “significantly better” than those without.

Indeed, a 2017 study by McKinsey & Company found gender diversity to be correlated with both profitability and value creation:

  • Companies with higher numbers of women at executive-level worldwide had a 21 percent likelihood of outperforming their industry peers with fewer women on EBIT margin.
  • Companies with more women at executive level also had a 27 percent likelihood of outperforming their peers on longer-term value creation, as measured using an economic-profit (EP) margin.


The dangers of Diversity without Inclusion

Increasing gender diversity, and diversity in general, at the executive, board and senior leadership level is no doubt a step in the right direction. However, diversity without inclusion makes life very hard for the ‘diverse’ individuals as Solomon so tactfully calls them. We need both more diversity and greater inclusion in organisations if we want to retain and engage diverse talent. To do so, we need inclusive leadership and to build inclusive cultures.


What is an Inclusive Culture and how can we measure it?

If diversity is being invited to the party, then inclusion is being asked to dance. Or being offered a mocktail if you don’t drink alcohol. Or having veggie food if you don’t eat meat.

If the women in the company are at the proverbial party, but are standing in the corner not feeling particularly welcome, then you’re not being inclusive. Inclusion is a measure of support and connection. It gives us an understanding of experiences across multiple dimensions.

At Qlearsite, we have developed an inclusion framework which shows 4 definitions and examples of inclusion. Once you think about inclusion in this sort of detail, you can start to identify ways to improve equality at work, as well as what you can celebrate within your company. The framework is part of our wider Diversity & Inclusion survey and analysis, but these 4 definitions should be helpful to get started.

Inclusion Banner

Safety & Access

Everyone has equal access to the facilities and resources of an organisation, feel safe at work and pursue their career without fear.

In action: Do women have the same access to senior leadership mentoring opportunities? Do they have equal access to resources? Do female employees and/or transgender employees feel psychologically and physically safe at work?

Trust & Fairness

Everyone has confidence that processes and procedures can be trusted and that leaders or those in authority will act appropriately, without bias.

In action: Are promotions and rewards based on unbiased measures of merit? In disputes will employees be treated fairly and without bias? Do you have unbiased leadership?


Everyone can be their authentic selves and work in a fair, meritocratic environment with balanced rewards that are not influenced by identity.

In action: Are all faiths welcomed equally or do some workplace rituals make it more difficult for some faiths to feel accepted? We’ve seen cases where certain religions have felt left out, but it’s not because of an organisational issue. It’s because when they get breakfast, the caterers are quite unadventurous and everything’s got pork in it.


Everyone feels valued in an inclusive workplace, that all identities are celebrated and their organisation embraces differences.

In action: Do all employees feel at home or do some groups feel less comfortable than others e.g. is there an ‘old boys club’?

Conference talk image

Inclusive Cultures are built by Inclusive Leaders

Lastly, it takes inclusive Leaders to build inclusive workplaces. The good news is we can all be inclusive leaders, regardless of whether we formally lead people or not. Inclusive leaders take responsibility for their world and seek to positively impact it. A 2019 study by Deloitte found that inclusive leadership directly enhances performance. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. It was also noted that a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism.

What are the traits of Inclusive Leadership?

  • Courageousness. Inclusive Leaders strive to include everyone. They do not shy away from the tough topics surrounding diversity and inclusion, they put the need for the need for progress in this area ahead of their own discomfort or fear of saying the wrong thing.
  • Genuine curiosity. Inclusive leaders go into the world brimming with curiosity and seeking to understand other people’s experiences. They are aware of their own biases and are curious about them too.
  • Better Listening. This means not just ‘listening’ to respond or asking for someone’s opinion and then not waiting long enough to hear the answer. In our own Qlearsite research we have shown that organisations that listen to their people really well are 4.6x more likely to have the highest growth and 14.4x more likely to have the highest customer net promoter scores compared to their poor listening peers.
  • Empowerment. Inclusive leaders create space for others to shine. They deeply acknowledge, empathise with and empower others. They own their own brilliance in a way that encourages others to do the same.

Inclusive Leadership ability can be assessed through 360 degree feedback of those who they interact with. Unlike other 360, it is not the opinion of the majority or the average scores, that is important. Inclusive leaders, by definition, include everyone and thus are rated that way by everyone.

If you’d like to learn more about building inclusive cultures and leaders, contact evy.fellas@qlearsite.com.

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