Modern Management Challenges

Managing Diversity

#MeToo for Inclusive Leadership

As we have seen through the mushrooming of the #MeToo social media campaign over the past year, in many workplaces power is exercised exploitatively and privilege is exercised inappropriately. While the #MeToo campaign gained visibility from the revelations of sexual harassment by powerful men in Hollywood, the stories shared across social media in many countries implicated many workplaces beyond those relating to the film industry. The common message from these stories in western industrialised countries was that in these workplaces those in formal positions of authority – the leaders – had bought into the myth of the (mainly white and male) leader being above others. The growing social movement calling out this behaviour is making it increasingly clear this sort of behaviour is just not on anymore. The counter to this style is inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership embraces fairness and respect towards a diverse range of talent irrespective of stereotyping; it focuses on values and belonging and emphasises high performance through confidence and inspiration. Leaders and followers co-exist socially in the process of leadership, and the influence of followership cannot be untangled from leadership. Exclusionary behaviour costs; for the excluded individual in terms of their well-being, for those observing the behaviours and feeling unable to act and for the business in terms of higher turnover.

Creating workplaces that are inclusive and enabling for all to flourish is easier said than done. As the #MeToo campaign has brought into sharp relief, workplaces are gendered sites which reproduce inequalities. The wider debate that has ensued reminds us that gender is not the only basis on which opportunities can be constrained; race, class, sexuality, disability are also implicated. Challenging the practices reinforcing inequality, including habitual exclusionary behaviours, which have been, if not rewarded at least overlooked in the past, requires concerted effort.

In our book, we explore how gendered spaces can be navigated by women and men, as leaders and followers. ‘Undoing the normalisation of leadership as a masculine phenomenon’ (Pullen and Vachhani, 2018, p. 148) is a potent phrase underpinning many of the arguments made by our contributing authors. Shifting from a mindset of doing things to people to doing things with people is a fundamental tenet of inclusive leadership. And the payoff to breaking down this inequality is worth it, for the business and followers.

Fostering a generous openness to difference is essential for inclusion, but as we see through the stories told by our authors, it can be challenging.

Throughout the chapters, we see examples of how inclusive leadership can be practised, or not, by women and men. In countering the traditional notions of masculine leadership, there can be a tendency to slip between ‘feminine’ leadership and inclusive leadership. We caution against such a narrow focus. Through the interrogation of inclusive and exclusive leadership in diverse cultural, corporate and occupational contexts, we see how the oppression of difference can be identified and problematized. Recognising and reflecting on valuing difference, rather than reifying likeness, takes effort and a capacity to let go of notions of control. The practising of inclusive leadership takes a willingness to self-reflect and adapt. For those endeavouring to hone their skills as inclusive leaders, this collection will provide some incisive guidance.

Wouldn’t we all be better off if an equivalent #MeToo campaign blossomed for those citing the inclusive leadership they value?

Sujana Adapa is Senior Lecturer in Management (Strategy & Marketing) in the UNE Business School at the University of New England, Australia.  She has published widely in international journals, including Critical Perspectives on Accounting, the Journal of Cleaner Production, the Australasian Journal of Information Systems and the Australasian Journal of Regional Studies.

Alison Sheridan is Professor of Management and currently Head of the UNE Business School at the University of New England, Australia. She has been teaching and researching the experience of women in paid work, including their representation on boards, for more than two decades.  Her research often focuses on regional context and her work has appeared in Gender Work and Organization, Gender and Education, Corporate Governance: An International Review and the International Journal of Human Resource Management.

P_Sheridan and Adapa_Inclusive Leadership