Inequality at work cannot be solved without love-based leadership

Much has been said of the powers of love, but Yetunde Hofmann explains why it is the key to more inclusive and equal workplaces

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Many studies have reported on the benefits to creativity, innovation and profitability enabled by more inclusive, diverse organisations, and tackling inequalities in the workplace is one of the most pressing issues for leaders.

With unfair working environments, a lack of representation at senior levels, diversity had seemingly become a box-ticking exercise, forcing many Black professionals to reassess their career plans. According to Bloomberg, addressing inequalities in the workplace and society at large is one of the most pressing issues for our leaders in terms of retaining – and attracting – the best talent. 

Meanwhile, recent research from the Chartered Management Institute found there is growing resistance towards gender balance in some organisations. Additionally, progress towards racial equality in the boardroom has been limited. Indeed, the Guardian reported in early 2022 that while most of Britain’s top 100 companies now have at least one minority ethnic board member, only six CEOs have an ethnic minority background. 

To address and solve this issue, we need a step change. Our pace has so far been slow and, unless we are willing to challenge the status quo and rethink workplace practices, progress will falter. The solution is leaders who genuinely believe in inclusion, and the key to true inclusion is love. 

Love is an unconditional acceptance of all that we are as human beings. It is the ability and willingness to see and celebrate the differences, talents, strengths and beauty we each bring to the world. The behaviours that underpin inclusion – compassion, empathy, kindness – cannot be truly demonstrated by leaders without love at its root.

Love-based leaders understand and value the unique talents and differences within their teams and build an environment in which everyone – regardless of background, race, ethnicity and identity – can be their authentic selves and be heard. In doing so, they encourage team members to bring forward new ideas and enhance the creativity and innovation of their organisation for the benefit of one and all. Creating this sense of belonging rooted in love drives equality in the workplace as every employee feels their voice and experience is valued.

When a leader operates from a place of love, they understand their responsibility goes beyond the bottom line as they are serving a greater power than themselves. Their actions are shaped by their appreciation of and love for their people, their customers and the communities they serve.

So, what can be done to shape our organisations to tackle these issues? To start, HR leaders must act as role models for their organisations. Make it an action to explore the development of love as a critical organisation and leadership capability, starting in your own department. Review your processes and networks and how they could be updated to reflect the individual needs of your employees. If you have employee resource groups, do they have the required mandate in your organisation, or could more targeted support be offered? How inclusive are your recruitment processes? Are you asking the right and uncomfortable questions that will provide honest though uncomfortable answers, or are you shying away from the truth? Placing love at the centre values the individual needs of your people and encourages you to listen to and value their experiences, and act on their suggestions. 

Teams managed with love will also create allies, sponsors and advocates who are bold in their actions and work collectively towards a greater sense of inclusion. They will feel safe to call out behaviour that goes against their values and those of the organisation – regardless of how high performing and popular the perpetrator is. You must be committed to building an inclusive workplace that values the safety and wellbeing of your employees, so it is important that you listen and act, adopting a zero-tolerance policy on behaviours and comments that harm others. 

In summary, love can initiate the conversation around truly combating inequalities at work. It enables us to act with compassion, empathy and kindness, with benefits for all if we pursue it as a capability in organisations across the globe. Love can build a better, more inclusive world – all we have to do is take that first decisive step.   

Yetunde Hofmann is executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity adviser, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of Solaris