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What makes an inclusive leader? General Counsel give their advice

23 September 2021

We asked the GCs joining our Brave New Law discussions to share one tip that they feel makes them a more inclusive leader.

Inclusive leaders are fundamental to creating inclusive cultures. If you have an inclusive culture, it will help diversity grow, as all employees feel like they can be who they truly are and bring their full range of ideas and creativity to work.

We asked a number of GCs who recently joined our Brave New Law roundtable discussion on the topic of Inclusive Leadership to share their one top tip that they feel makes them a more inclusive leader.

Alex Simpson, UK Legal Director & Associate General Counsel at Amazon UK: 
“For me, it’s paying attention to who isn't joining things. One of the things I tend to notice more is when people are not involved in things rather than when they are, that might be a by-product of the way we're all working. I think it's important to consider 'why is that person not involved in that meeting/project' – it has led to members of the team engaging in things they may not have done before. It's empowered people to get involved. It has also created challenges; we've hired many people in the pandemic who haven't had chance to learn alongside colleagues in the office. We must ensure new joiners feel included in the team.”

Banke Odunaike, Executive Director, Head of Legal, EMEA at CBRE:
“Adopt an innovative mind-set – be curious, ask questions aimed at learning something new from someone new, challenge the status quo and listen to understand opposing perspectives.”

Ingrid Cope, Legal Director GB&I and NE at Coca Cola:
“An ideal workplace culture is one where leaders give their team members a strong sense of belonging. That means that each team member has the psychological safety to dissent, and to raise their suggestions about how to improve the work. That leads to the intellectual friction that gets you to better ideas and innovation. For this reason, inclusive leadership is a critical capability which enables us to leverage diverse thinking.”

Kenny Robertson, Head of Legal Outsourcing, Technology & IP, NatWest:
“I try to be a more inclusive leader by putting myself into the shoes of others, to understand why a colleague might be hesitant or reticent or lacking in confidence. Being relatable and authentic and acknowledging that shyness and fear-of-looking-stupid are issues that all of us grapple with, and sharing how we might come through it, has helped promote an inclusivity and stop barriers building.”

Maaike de Bie, Group General Counsel & Company Secretary at EasyJet:
“I have reflected on the word inclusion and being inclusive – and my preference is to look at this from a slightly different angle – one of belonging. In my view, if people feel they belong, they can be their true and best self. Find out what you can do as a leader to create a space of belonging. For me it starts with how you interact with others – be curious about every person you meet, truly listen, and find out what matters and what motivates them; what are their values? At the heart of this is creating trust and there are plenty of books written on how to build trust. One way that I have found works especially well with lawyers is showing your own vulnerability and that, shock horror; we do not always have all the answers. And sharing these experiences. There is such an emphasis on being perfect and this has created such a fear of failure. I think we have just about accepted in the world that it is ok not to be ok so let us now also be all ok not being perfect, not knowing the answers and that each of us is enough. I think it is worth remembering that everyone is trying to do their best – whatever that best is, for the day. So, a mixture of being kind, being accepting, truly listening, being curious, sharing.”

Paul Boyle, Group Deputy General Counsel at Serco: 
“The opportunity in this area for me is that a lot of understanding comes through hearing people's stories. I have heard incredible stories of what people have been through and overcome, particularly during COVID. You feel a much better connection with colleagues and others when you hear about these stories and imagine yourself in their shoes. I have tried hard to facilitate conversations to learn about others and hear their stories.”

Rachel Jacobs, Group General Counsel and Diversity & Inclusion Champion at Springer Nature: 
“The biggest thing I can do is to role model the behaviour that I expect others to display. Because Springer Nature is a knowledge business, educating myself has been a priority as I lack credibility without it. You can learn a huge amount by spending time with your employee networks. You learn so much in an open and natural way, giving you a different perspective to naturally become more inclusive. Finally, follow through. If you have said as a business you will do x,y and z you need to absolutely do it. Make sure you practice what you preach and be visible about it.”

Catherine McGregor, Author and co lead of Brave New Law:
“The older I've got and the more work I've done in DEI, the more I feel comfortable with admitting that 'I don't know'. It’s always more powerful as a leader to admit what you don’t know and ask a question than ignore areas that you are afraid of discussing.”

Caroline Colliston, Partner DWF, Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Group Member: 
“It’s making people feeling included, in real life and virtually. I will ask people if they feel brave enough to put their camera on and inviting them to speak first as I do think all voices need to be heard.”

Hilary Ross, Global Head of Clients and Markets at DWF:
“Authentic and vulnerable leadership is key. When you can be yourself you find that people all have stories and will share with you. When I have meetings now, I have a ten-minute read in, giving people this time drives inclusion and engagement in the meeting as they have time to look at the information. Bringing people with you in meetings is also key, ensure people know there are no stupid questions, and they can share their thoughts and even the craziest ideas. Help them to come to decisions driving autonomy, ultimately you end up with strong buy-in and diversity of thought.”

For more content on diversity and inclusion, visit our D&I page.

What makes an inclusive leader?
Read more about inclusive leadership in action here.

Further Reading