Managing with Inclusion

DLI members share their thoughts on how managers can be inclusive.

by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

This is the third article in a series about workplace inclusion.


Team leaders, managers, or supervisors play a pivotal role in making sure inclusion happens in an organisation. They are on the front line of implementing organisational policy, and the vision of the organisation’s leaders. Without their buy in, and strong commitment, inclusion simply will not happen.

The Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) asked our members about workplace inclusion and they identified managers, or team leaders (we use the term managers generically here), as being important in making inclusion a reality.

DLI members had several comments and suggestions for getting inclusion right across a range of workplace touch points. Many of these suggestions come from managers of teams, CEOs, and highly qualified disabled people struggling to find work. All the suggestions are from disabled people as both practitioners of inclusion and participants in inclusive processes.

Inclusion needs to start at the beginning, during recruitment, and continue as an ongoing focus for management and leadership every day. Complacency is not an option. Never assume your organisation is fully inclusive, nor that you have no further work to do. There is always more to be done, just as there are always more ways of being inclusive, because diverse people are diverse, and each person must be treated as an individual.

Managers, supervisors and team leaders should consider:

How they take organisation level policies and apply them at team level. It is managers who make sure teams are practicing inclusion every day. Strong supervision to ensure any bullying or harassment is nipped in the bud, cliques aren’t forming which leave people of diversity aside, and being open about the kind of organisation this is and its leaders’ vision for diversity and inclusion.

Managers should not assume that their direct reports know what is expected, nor should they rely on common sense. Neither of these strategies has worked in the past, and there is no evidence to suggest they will succeed. Regular proactive team leadership is required to bring inclusion into the team as an ever-present expectation and practice.

Ongoing conversations amongst team members which may lead to flexible work arrangements on where and how work is done. Managers need to be open about flexible work and what it means. Flexible work is more than working remotely, and it’s important to consider how team members who may be working elsewhere can be included in day to day work and outcomes.

It is often managers who approve flexible and remote working practices. This is enormous power to wield over team members which needs to be handled delicately within an environment of acceptance and trust. Without flexible work arrangements many disabled workers do not sustain employment or feel excluded, so they leave. How managers refer to flexible work, how it is approved, and how flexible work arrangements are discussed on a daily basis will dictate how the rest of the team accepts it, and whether it becomes part of how business is done.

Ensure regular activities like staff meetings and team gatherings are undertaken in open reflective ways. When inclusion and inclusive practices are part of an ongoing conversation there will be greater understanding and acceptance of them. Managers can ensure that inclusion is a regular item on team meeting agendas, including how the team is travelling, how inclusion is discussed, what the team could be doing better. Is the team fulfilling the vision of the organisation’s leaders? Are there any gaps and what is being done about them?

Managers are the gatekeepers to professional development for team members. Accepting all team members equally means ensuring that everyone has equitable access to professional development. A study conducted by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) showed that disabled team members are far less likely to be provided professional development opportunities as members of the same team.

Additionally, managers have a key role to play in addressing bullying and harassment. The same IGPA study uncovered a rate of bullying that is double that for the broader workforce. Tackling this head on, by ensuring that all team members understand how unacceptable bullying is, must become second nature to managers of diverse teams.

Being open about reality and committing to a more inclusive team are part of a manager’s commitment to ensuring their team embraces inclusion and the broader vision of an inclusive organisation.

Managers, supervisors and team leaders are pivotal to building organisation inclusion. Without them inclusion will not happen, nor can it be sustained. Remaining open, not shutting conversations down, and being clear that the goal of inclusion is yet to be reached, can be part of bringing a team, and therefore a workforce, along with the management and leadership vision of an inclusive organisation.


Thanks to the many DLI members who shared thoughts and experiences for this article.

Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute


Author: hchristinar

The professional hub for disability leaders. Time to change the way leadership is understood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s