In today's rapidly evolving landscape, the field of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is undergoing constant transformation. To keep up, leaders must demonstrate unwavering adaptability and acute awareness to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. This understanding is at the heart of the work done by Olukemi Jeboda, the Director of People for Langley Trust, an innovative Christian charity that provides specialist housing, care services, programmes and support services in the community, and targeted advice in prisons, for People with convictions so that they can reintegrate into society, live crime-free and thrive.
Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Olukemi to discuss the traits and habits of inclusive leadership, the integration of inclusion with organisational goals, and the need to foster a culture of learning and growth.
I’m Olukemi Jeboda and I’m the Director of People at Langley Trust. I’ve been in the post for almost two years now. Langley Trust is an organisation which provides care, housing and support needs to people with convictions.
It’s been an interesting path. I have a science background and studied Industrial Chemistry at University. But shortly after I graduated, I realised I didn’t want to stay in that field for the rest of my life, so I started looking for opportunities where I could discover more about myself. So I got a job in a bank, and thereafter moved into training and human resources where I began to work my way up, completing my qualifications with the Chartered Institute of Personal Development. Since then, I’ve worked across various sectors, including banking, logistics, insurance, and manufacturing. About 15 years ago, I found my way into housing, and I’ve been in the sector ever since.
The key thing to understand is that the world has changed since the pandemic. Covid changed all of us, not just because it decimated people’s lives, but because it made us evolve how we are, live and work as people. People had a lot of time on their hands to reflect, and they realised they could have a stronger voice and be the architects of their own lives. The bargaining power really shifted away from employers and towards employees. As leaders, we need to accept that: if we try and move the clock back, we’ll just be banging our heads against the wall. Then, with Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of attention on ED&I issues. It’s important for organisations to continue to prioritise belonging and inclusion, building on that progress instead of putting it to one side. We need to recognise the power that everyone brings to the table and harness that in a positive direction.
Even with people working from home, they still feel like they are busier than before. We need to prioritise what’s important: many people want to get involved, but they feel like they don’t have the time to spare. As leaders, part of our responsibility is to spend time listening to and engaging with people. Employee engagement is a key ingredient of commercial success, so we need to engage at a high level and think creatively about how to empower people to use their voices.
First of all, you can’t create an inclusive workplace without psychological safety. There’s an old cliche that people should “bring their whole selves to work”, but people can’t do that unless they feel comfortable in their environment. It’s not something that just happens: you need to be active and intentional. Empathy is a key attribute for leaders, and that’s not just about listening to people, but about feeling what they are feeling.
Finally, you need to lead with courage. Leaders suffer from all sorts of insecurities, and it’s common to feel imposter syndrome. But it’s important to understand that we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and that it’s okay not to be perfect.
Well, I think if you need to draw the link, then the link isn’t there. It needs to be an integral component of the organisation. Now, I see lots of organisations who state diversity, inclusion, and belonging as part of their values. That’s a good start, but you also need to apply that to leadership, practices, and how people feel at work. Inclusion needs to be embedded in the fabric of the organisation. If the head of the fish is rotten, it will spoil the whole fish; leaders need to take ownership and drive change to keep the organisation thriving and healthy.
Culture is made up of what you see, what you say, and what you expect. But underneath all that is the things people actually do when no one is watching. It’s important to look at culture holistically. In terms of learning, I’ve been inspired by Thomas R. Clark’s work on psychological safety. A learning culture beats a performance culture every time. People need to have the space to learn, but also to make mistakes. Don’t assume where people are, and empower them to feel able to reach out and ask for help. As a leader, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know everything: if you have a strong team, you can trust in their expertise.
Early in my career, when I was working in the banking sector, I realised I would need to take a pay cut if I wanted to move into HR. So I spoke to my Mum, who convinced me to see the difference in pay as investing in my learning and growth rather than as a pay cut. That taught me that investing in one’s self is the best choice that one can make.