4 Learnings on Leading for Inclusion
Context: Spark and Co. is a community platform providing information, support and services for racialised people and communities during Covid-19. In June 2020, we raised £120k from the National Lottery Community Foundation.
At Spark and Co., providing safe spaces for people and communities of colour is core to our work. It makes sense then that this ethos is carried forward into out team, and inclusion is woven into the way we work. From the brand we built, the language we use, to the people we work with - inclusion is embedded into everything we do.
In this post I’ll be sharing some practices on leading and building an inclusive team (virtually, and during a pandemic no less!).
One: bringing my whole self to work (and allowing others to)
I’ve worked in a lot of spaces where I won’t (or can’t) bring my whole self to work. Whether it’s what I wear or how I talk, the art of assimilation is one I have become adept at.
When I recruited the team at Spark and Co., I knew I had the opportunity to create culture - the beauty of building something from scratch is that you get to shape it into what you hope it to be.
For me, this meant bringing my whole self to work; my experiences and challenges, my hopes and fears, my skills and struggles. The longer I operated like this, the more I saw others return it in kind.
As a leader, the moments that have stood out to me are, for example, when a team member felt they could take time out to go to a protest about something they deeply cared about, or when another told me they has reassessed working practices as it was affecting their anxiety.
On a real, practical level, allowing others to bring their whole selves to work means allowing them to be their whole selves - not just in the context of their job role. I hoped Spark and Co. to be a place where myself and every person I worked with had the opportunity to be themselves. I think we’re getting there.
Two: operating with radical honesty
Following on from the above, another key factor in building an inclusive team has been operating with radical honesty.
From budgets and day dates, to my failures, setbacks and hard decisions, I have been open and honest with the team and our main stakeholders.
In the end, I have found that people have been incredibly receptive to this approach. Even when things haven’t worked out or gone to plan, I’ve found most people appreciate knowing the wider context and transparency over how and why decisions are made.
In almost every previous role or organisation I have stepped away from, it was inevitably due to a lack of transparency, objectivity or clarity.
Radical honesty enables us to really own and communicate why and how we do what we do, and it makes a world of difference.
Three: setting clear boundaries & expectations
In a constantly changing, flexible, virtual world, something that has been absolutely essential is setting clear boundaries and expectations.
Our team works very flexibly, we all have different working patterns and very different roles. It has been essential for us to set clear goals, with targets and timelines in place. These goals have acted like a compass for us out in the wilderness.
We all have different working styles and communication preferences, so being very clear about personal boundaries has also been really important - the simple act of saying “I reply to emails during this time” or “I process invoices only at this time” has worked wonders.
There are two rituals in our team that do not waver - the weekly one to one and the team meeting. We avoid moving these and all prioritise attending them. These rituals have acted as a fixed point for us and served as an opportunity to spend quality time with the team (a caveat that of course things can be moved if essential!).
Four: Always be open to being wrong
I’ve made a thousand mistakes since I started running Spark and Co.
We’re building a complex platform, working with vulnerable people, virtually, during a pandemic. This means at some point, we are all going to get something wrong, including me.
Part of building an inclusive team is knowing that you absolutely do not know everything, and you absolutely will get it wrong. And when that happens, I’m learning to take a step back and reflect rather than react. This has enabled me to be a more mindful leader, and in turn, one who is more open to being wrong.
If you want to build an inclusive team, shut down your ego and open up your ears. There's been a lot of learning for me - on race, on disability, on our differences. In order to be open to this learning, it's critical to not expect others to do the work but rather focus on listening, reflecting, adjusting, and trying again.