Leaders and managers have a vital role in creating an inclusive organisation, where different people feel able to be themselves, that their contribution is valued; where they’re treated with respect and dignity and have equality of opportunity and outcomes.  

Leaders and managers have a significant influence on the organisation’s culture and what it feels like to work there. They set the tone of the organisation through their behaviour, with others looking to them as role models. Leader behaviour and actions influence how the organisation operates day-to-day, such as how people interact and on management style. 


By virtue of their position, leaders can make systemic change happen. They set the strategic direction and influence how the strategy is implemented, which impacts what is valued and prioritised. They need to exemplify inclusive behaviour as well as ensure inclusion is a key consideration in strategic and high-level business decisions. They should hold others to account, ensuring principles of EDI are reflected through all aspects of how the organisation operates.  

Managers also have a significant influence on the employee experience. They enact people management policies, design jobs, and largely decide who is hired and who is promoted. Their behaviour and management style shapes the culture of the team and the daily experience of work. It’s often said that people leave a manager, not a job. 

Our Inclusion at Work 2022 report, in partnership with Reed, examined the role of leaders and managers in promoting EDI. The research revealed five actions HR can take to engage leaders in other functions on EDI and help foster inclusive leadership. We’ll examine each through the lens of the survey findings and wider CIPD research.  

1. Engage with leaders in other business functions on the EDI strategy, making the link to business priorities

An EDI strategy or action plan is needed to set direction and foster commitment to EDI from across the organisation. It can also help focus leaders’ attention on key issues to make lasting change, as opposed to an ad hoc and reactive short-term response. 

You need to look at whether and how your EDI strategy is aligned to the overall business as well as people strategies. How will it help achieve your organisation’s priorities and address the challenges the organisation is facing? It can also be helpful to tailor your engagement with leaders in different functions in terms of the specific challenges they’re facing in their part of the business. How will the EDI strategy or plan help them address these? 

Disappointingly, the survey found that almost a third (32%) of senior decision-makers in large organisations didn’t know what inclusion and diversity (I&D) areas the organisation would be focusing on over the next five years.  

Questions to consider:  
  • How do you currently engage with senior leaders on the EDI agenda? And to what effect?
  • How have you linked/aligned the EDI strategy with the wider business strategy and priorities? 
  • Do you communicate EDI insights across the organisation in a way that helps leaders in different functions address the specific challenges they’re facing? 

2. Ensure leaders feel skilled-up and confident to champion EDI  

Progress on EDI is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, starting with leaders. Ensuring leader capability and confidence is essential. They need to role model inclusive behaviour and lead in an inclusive way, setting clear standards of behaviour and holding others to account. Furthermore, it’s vital they challenge and remove aspects of the organisation system and the informal organisation that are maintaining inequalities.  

But like everyone else, they will need training, guidance and support to do this effectively. They need to understand what championing EDI and leading inclusively means for them and their role. Starting the conversation on EDI requires confidence in how to talk about it. This confidence should be rooted in knowledge and an openness to learning. Leaders and managers will not have lived experience of all aspects of diversity, but that doesn’t mean they can’t champion equality and be an active ally.     

However, 23% of senior decision-makers surveyed said senior leaders feel uncomfortable talking about I&D. And only around two-fifths of respondents said senior leaders completely understood what each aspect of EDI means.  

With many managers being part of the talent pipeline into leadership roles, it’s important to invest in their role in improving EDI. Just 23% of employers said they train managers in fair and inclusive people management, yet 87% who do this and were asked about it say it’s effective in creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace. In fact, all of the manager-related practices aimed at improving I&D had low uptake but were rated highly on effectiveness. 

Investment in developing capability and confidence here is essential if leaders and managers are to make meaningful progress within their organisation and be effective internal and external advocates for EDI.   

Questions to consider:   
  • To what extent do leaders and managers in your organisation manage people in a fair and inclusive way? How do you know?   
  • What EDI-related training and development would most benefit the leadership team in your organisation? 
  • In which areas do managers need training and how will ongoing support and guidance be provided to them?  

3. Show them the data providing evidence of the need for change 

Data and evidence are essential to make the case for change. Leaders and managers need to understand why action is important and where it’s needed. The survey suggests that utilising workforce data and insight is an area for improvement for HR.   

Only 38% of employers collect some kind of equal opportunities monitoring data from employees and/or job applicants. A minority of organisations use this data to see who is applying for jobs, who is being recruited and progressing, or to identify where action is needed and to plan activity. And just 31% of employers say data helps identify where I&D activities should be focused.   

This data and insight are important to understand where the barriers to equality are in different parts of the organisation and for engaging leaders and managers in an evidence-based way about the steps to take to address them.  

The survey data also suggests HR is not sharing insight from EDI data with other business functions as much as they could. I&D data is included in an organisation’s dashboard and shared with other business functions in a minority of organisations who collect data (28%). A further 12% didn’t know. But it’s encouraging that over three in five (61%) of employers responding to our survey said that senior leaders are interested in the I&D data collected in their organisation. And around half of employers who collect data (49%) said there is demand for more I&D data.  

Questions to consider:   
  • How are you using data to see where action is needed? 
  • How is this insight shared and discussed with leaders of other functions across the organisation?    
  • Do you communicate EDI insights across the organisation in a way that helps colleagues from different functions take action to address the challenges they’re facing?  

4. Design manager job roles to give them the time and space needed to manage inclusively 

The survey findings suggest that a significant barrier holding some managers back in improving EDI is the design of their roles, which are not structured in a way that supports this aspect of their job. Over a quarter of survey respondents (28%) said that managers are not given the time and resources needed to demonstrate a tangible commitment to I&D.   

Could a lack of effective job design explain that nearly half (47%) of employers say that I&D considerations take a back seat to operational imperatives, for example, when managers are urgently hiring?  

Managers need time to get to know team members as individuals, understand their strengths and their working preferences. They need to be afforded trust and the space needed to think about how their team can work most effectively and in a way that supports personal development and employee wellbeing.  

Questions to consider:  
  • How are manager roles designed to balance operational demands with a focus on good people management and EDI? 
  • Are managers given the training, then flexibility and trust, to respond to individual needs and circumstances?  

5. Make tangible action on EDI part of how leaders’ and managers’ performance is judged  

Tangible action on EDI is part of how senior leaders’ performance is judged in only 29% of organisations. And the same percentage of managers have I&D as part of their performance objectives.   

Attention will get paid to what is measured. But this fifth action needs to be supported by the preceding steps we have outlined. For example, leaders and managers need to understand why EDI is so important on many levels (for individuals, the organisation and impact in wider society) and why their commitment and action is essential for progress. They need to have the required knowledge and skills, feel confident to champion EDI and know how to lead inclusively.   

Senior leaders also need to ensure everyone, throughout the organisation, takes their role in creating an inclusive workplace seriously and hold people accountable for progress in this area. Managers can echo this within their area of the business.   

Questions to consider:   
  • How is leader and manager role performance evaluated to focus attention on and prioritise good people management and EDI? 
  • To what extent are leaders and managers taking personal responsibility for progress on EDI? 

About the author

Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser, Diversity and Inclusion

Jill is Senior Policy Adviser for Diversity and Inclusion at the CIPD. Her work focuses on the areas of gender, age and neurodiversity and she has recently led work on race inclusion, managing drug and alcohol misuse at work, and supporting employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and still birth. Earlier in her career, Jill specialised in small business growth through good people management and employee wellbeing.

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