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Quiet Leaders, Holding Space For More Equitable Conversations

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

Recently attending a strategy meeting, it became clear that how a space is held is essential to support contributors such as quieter leaders or emerging talent to feel that everybody’s suggestions can be brought to the table and for an inclusive ecology to thrive.

What is the right environment for people to feel they can bring their whole selves and take up space in a meeting with team leaders, senior managers to directors when sitting alongside influential leaders and speakers in the room?

I recall from when I first started out as a leader of a cultural organisation invited to sit on panels and be part of consortiums, I found as a quiet leader and unfamiliar with the set-up and protocol that, there was an underlying ‘boys club’, scratching each other back or stroking each other back that was alien to me. A feeling of not belonging, not knowing the nuances on how to engage or ‘compete’. Was this done in malice? In my observation, this is how it has always been.

I did not feel part of the in-group - or identify with similar education route, cultural nuances or social-economic status.

So much more is known about celebrating differences, although inviting a broader range of people shouldn't be a tick box exercise; as the dynamic of the space shifts, adjustments are necessary.

I believe it is about whoever holds power, how they use it, how to set up an inclusive space, and how invitations are offered to contribute. Mentoring new members and opportunities for the quieter, more active listeners to contribute in ways different from the usual systemic structure of meetings.

It is also in the recruitment process from the onset to initiate a work environment that enables shared ownership and values input into decision-making. That inclusion is at the centre of our values and a key pillar of practice.

I ask that we actively, regularly check in on practices and start from a place of inclusion in how we engage and invite so that everybody can contribute, reducing the intimidation and anxiety people may feel.

The results are empowering when staff teams can bring their whole selves to the workplace; generating a broader range of ideas whilst invoking a stronger sense of belonging, which leads to talent retention; statistical evidence proves that diverse led leadership and inclusive practices drive innovation and productivity and increases opportunities to steer a company to a new audience, customers and consumers—a winning formula for everybody.

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