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Inclusive Leadership Program

Why inclusive leadership is vital in a crisis

May 18, 2020
By Alana House

Mentees and mentors in the Drinks Association’s 2020 Inclusive Leadership Program have met for the first time via Zoom, as the initiative pivots during COVID-19.

Twelve companies are participating in the 2020 program: ALM, Australian Vintage, Bacardi Martini, Brown Forman, Campari, Casella, Carlton & United Breweries, Lion, Moet Hennessy, Pernod Ricard, Taylors and Treasury Wine Estates.

The program will once again be faciliated by Serendis Leadership. Serendis Director Bianca Havas said during her opening address that the program played a more important role than ever during COVID-19.

“We are delighted to be able to offer this program during these unprecedented times,” she noted.

Havas revealed she’d heard views that diversity and inclusion was something that society only indulges in when times are good, with some believing that cultural well-being and fairness are not currently a priority.

“However as many of you are experiencing, times like these require effective leadership,” she said.

“How can we lead effectively and make positive decisions in this time of uncertainty, when no one leader can feel that they have all the answers?

“That is where diversity of thinking, the ability to consult and invite a variety of viewpoints and life experiences comes in and strengthens the decision-making process.”

Havas added that there has been discussion around need for decisive leadership in the current crisis.

“We certainly need decisive leadership, but it doesn’t mean a lack of inclusion,” she said. “Inclusion has been tarred with the stigma of being seen as a time-consuming consensus approach.

“It’s time to reframe that stigma and what we mean by inclusion. Inclusion is a consultative, agile and mindful approach to idea generation and contribution of perspectives. It does not mean endless conversations to convince your colleagues.

“In organisations that have a lack of psychological safety, making decisions is a hard task to achieve and often leads to a personal need to gain consensus for fear of retribution if your decisions are wrong.”

Havas suggested refocusing on fostering diversity of thought, to create an environment that invites, seeks out and systematically values adverse opinions.

She also called for courageous leaders who are not afraid to change their minds and get it wrong at times.

“This is what we mean by inclusive leadership,” she concluded. “It absolutely supports decisiveness and this is my aspiration for this program: to equip our participants with the right tools and awareness for leading effectively in these uncertain and difficult times.”

Panellists reveal how Inclusive Leadership Program transformed their careers

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from a panel of mentors and mentees from last year’s program.

Casella’s Head of Strategy & Innovation, Michael Sergeant, said his team was more united following his participation in the program.

“I petitioned to involve the senior leadership team in the HBDI assessment and worked with Serendis to develop a vision and working pillars for our senior leadership team that would enable us to evolve culture, manage upwards and give us a better chance at achieve business objectives,” he told the group.

“A big part of this was sharing our vulnerabilities with each other which has improved trust and set a platform for having tough conversations within the team. We are now gelling and working a lot closer together and, although there are still frustrations, we are coming together more often in a united front to solve problems and celebrate successes.”

Former mentee Helen Taranyi revealed she now sits on the Brown-Forman Diversity and Inclusion board.

“I have a deeper awareness and confidence in what true diversity and inclusion means, but also how it can actually contribute to planning and the way we do business,” she noted.

The Inclusive Leadership Program is a Premium Service offered by the Drinks Association.