GWPR EMPOWER Masterclass Session eight – The Foundations of Inclusive Leadership with Thais Compoint

Published 15th Feb 2023

Summary of the session by Nina Kuerschner, Corporate Brand Strategist, BASF and GWPR mentee. Thais Compoint is Founder and CEO of Déclic International

Thais Compoint GWPR Empower Foundations of Inclusive Leadership

The last session of this year’s GWPR Empower programme was focused on the need for inclusive leadership with guest speaker Thais Compoint. Thais has broad experience in leading this topic. As CEO and founder of the consulting company Déclic International, she is an expert in inclusion & diversity training, speaking and consulting. Her passion and mission are to create a more inclusive and happier world. 

In a highly interactive dialogue, we embarked on an energising journey with Thais: First defining inclusive leadership and its foundations, then talking about the key barriers hindering Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE) and finally, tips and tricks on how to adapt to be an inclusive leader. Since the first second of the session, Thais made us aware of the omnipresence and multiple facets of diversity. It was in the nationalities of all EMPOWER mentees on the call, in our personalities, our perspectives, the kind of questions we asked and how we would interpret or approach the topic itself.  Due to a lacking a worldwide common definition of the term inclusive leadership, Thais opened the session by sharing her understanding of what it means and what it is founded in – Diversity, Inclusion and Equality. 

For Thais, the first pillar “Diversity” is a broad topic grounded in the fact that human beings per-se have multiple personalities. It is about who we are – our visible and invisible characteristics. Skin color and accents are exemplary visible parts of our personalities. Others such as your thinking style, skills and personality are hidden. She emphasized that both parts are equally important and following their definition she demonstrated the correlation of IDE with the second basis of inclusive leadership: “Inclusion”. All participants on the call shared the same interpretation of this term for making others feel valued and considered. It is about making others feel free to be themselves with all different visible and invisible characteristics. The last but not less important third foundation for Thais gained importance since the George Floyd event in May 2020: (Racial) Inequality. Together with Thais we elaborated some examples which prove that equality is not a granted gift. We talked about behavioral micro-inequalities such as men-terruption (women are more often interrupted then men) up to broader inequalities, like the fact that although 2/3 of the PR industry professionals are female, only 1/3 of PR leaders are female. This fact has recently been reconfirmed by the GWPR Annual Index 2022 which measures women’s progress towards gender equality and aims at creating awareness for the inequality in the PR industry.  Not only in the PR industry is inclusive leadership important. Several studies prove the business impact of IDE. After the Gallup Engagement Studies, 84% of employers have higher engagement levels, when leaders are considered to be inclusive. The 2019 Deloitte innovations report results prove that companies are six times more innovative if people are working in diverse teams. There are many business cases proving the added value of IDE. 

However, it doesn’t seem easy for leaders to embrace it. So, what is hindering them? Based on her experience and by using interactive quizzes, Thais enabled us to experience three barriers: unconscious bias, lack of empathy and privilege.

We started with unconscious bias. Our spontaneous judgments of two persons based on their most visible characters to fill our own knowledge gaps were not right. What does it say? We never know everything about others, and we fill these gaps with assumptions. On top, even though we love diversity we unconsciously surround ourselves with people like ourself. Eye opening was the fact that we simply do so because we love staying in our comfort zones. Another barrier we exchanged upon was the lack of empathy. In other words, the inability to put yourself into other people’s shoes. Not surprisingly human beings encounter here a kind of dilemma. On the one hand, we are wired to be emphatic. On the other hand, it is our tendency as human beings to project our own preferences, our own needs towards others. This is the lack of empathy. 

The last barrier “privileges” was illustrated to us via a little personal quiz and by quoting Peggy McIntosh (see Note). Being aware of the own privileges and using them to support others this is what makes an inclusive leader for Thais. Thanks to the little quiz we learned that apparently simple things like accessibility and mother tongue can be privileges. We have them inherently since our date of birth, but we are not aware that we are privileged to have them. Even though this barrier may reflect an existing systematic inequality, an unfair world, not being aware of our own privilege makes it even bigger. As an inclusive leader it is therefore important to make yourself aware of your own privilege. 

Finally, after exchanging on what inclusive leadership means and what prevents us from becoming an inclusive leader the session ended with some concrete solutions. 

Here is what to do if you want to be the type of person who attracts diverse people, who creates a culture where people feel free to be themselves and give their best: 

  • Acknowledge that you can be imperfect (as Thais said, your inner Darth Vader),
  • identify and challenge your biases,
  • surround yourself with people who are different from you, 
  • exclude silence as an option. Whenever you encounter non-inclusive comments, jokes or other difficult behaviors challenge them in a most appropriate way,
  • train your empathy muscle and don’t make assumptions. Ask for and give feedback, find out about people’s needs and perspectives, and, very important while doing so, focus on the future and the other people,
  • apply the platinum rule “treat others as they’d like to be treated”. Be approachable, show that you are human.
  • Whenever you come across a behavior which is kind of strange to you, find out what is motivating this behavior.
  • Be proactive: Start with educating yourself on IDE. Read. Listen to podcasts, talk to people, try to understand what it means to live in other people’s shoes and always try to build teams/groups with a diverse group intelligence.
  • Mentor and develop people who are different from you.

The entire session was interactive, energising and inspiring. The eye-opening perspectives Thais shared will support us in our journey towards inclusive leadership. We learned that inclusion is about challenging yourself, questioning and understanding each other as well as about adapting. But adaptation is not a one-way-street. It must happen both ways and sometimes it is just the little things, such as being transparent on communication channels and on your and other people’s needs. It is about a dialogue which has to be continued. 

For more information on Thais Compoint: 

For more information on topics mentioned in the session: