International Women’s Day Q&A: Natasha Attipoe on her hopes for the future of inclusive leadership

This International Women’s Day, we sat down with our Senior Consultant in the Global Higher Education Practice and Chair of the RISE Leadership Network, Natasha Attipoe. We discussed her role in the sector, the importance of and challenges in achieving diverse and inclusive leadership, and her hopes for the future.

What three words would you use to describe your role at Perrett Laver?

Purposeful, inclusive and future-focused.

Why is diversity and inclusion in leadership so important?

The two must work in tandem to be truly impactful.

Diversity is important in achieving greater representation and introducing as broad a range of backgrounds and perspectives as possible. There is no doubt about the positive business impact that a more diverse set of colleagues has when it comes to performance.

But I would argue that diversity is not truly effective unless it is coupled with a culture of inclusion. It’s essential that an environment of psychological safety is created where people can express the value of the difference that they bring with their diversity, enabling others to learn from and harness the fresh and unique perspective.

What are the main challenges to achieving diverse leadership in Higher Education?

There is a significant challenge in the historic and systemic inequalities that exist in Higher Education leadership that have been around for generations.

I have been working in the Higher Education sector and executive search for over a decade and have witnessed a gradual shift away from institutions wanting to outsource solutions to their diversity issues.

Our clients are instead starting to reflect and take ownership of how they came to be, where they are now and how they might begin to tackle historic inequalities in the future. These reflections can often lead to uncomfortable discussions and realisations and unfortunately it does tend to fall on groups that are already marginalised to bring some of these injustices to light.

Ultimately, the leadership pipeline must be the priority, so that a diverse range of talent can be nurtured from beginning to end.

Within the higher education practice, who is a significant recent appointment and why?

We have recently worked with UCL to appoint a Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), which I’ve taken immense pride in.

Interestingly, the role hasn’t been incorporated into the HR function, which EDI roles often are. This individual has been given huge autonomy and responsibility to shape and operationalise the EDI agenda across an incredibly complex organisation, working closely with the institution’s most influential leaders.

It’s a big role and has been given the recognition it deserves, sending a signal to the wider university community about how seriously the portfolio can, and should be, taken.

EDI is so much more than just ‘doing the right thing’ – the agenda has been brought into an organisation’s risk and opportunity considerations. There are huge risks when not executed well and opportunities of an equal scale when the approach is spot on. Organisations therefore need to be able to articulate their position on inclusion and purpose in a more sophisticated way than they may have done previously.

What are your hopes for the future of leadership?

In short, I hope for greater and more diverse representation in our future leaders.

But beyond demographic diversity, an organisation’s ability to foster a feeling of belonging for individuals, particularly those who are often marginalised, is what will really shift the dial for future leadership.