Lee Almond discusses her personal experiences of workplace inclusion that shaped and inspired her personal style of inclusive leadership at CGI.

March 2024

I am so pleased that the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspire Inclusion’. It’s so important for a workplace to be inclusive. People spend so much time there, and feeling included, that your voice matters, brings out the best in everyone.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked in both the private and public sector. I’ve seen some amazing, and some not so amazing examples of inclusive leadership. I’ve learned that fundamentally, an inclusive culture is driven by the leaders at all levels of an organisation, and I’ve learned that as a senior leader, prioritising inclusion means that those around me will be able to be their best selves at work.

A recent finding by The Harvard Business Review states that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference on whether an individual reports feeling included. For me, this proves how crucial it is to drive the right culture when you’re in any position of leadership. I  adopt an inclusive approach with everyone I work with, whether they’re my own team members, my clients, or my key stakeholders, and I’ve seen the powerful impact this has on performance individually and as a business. 


Learning from the good and the bad of inclusive leadership

My experience of inclusion improved a lot during my career. Years ago, as a young Customs Officer, I was the only female among three new starters on my team. I was asked to take the notes for every VAT operations meeting that quarter, even though it wasn’t part of my role. Later I learned that historically it had rotated amongst the team at each meeting, but at the time, I wanted to make a good impression and needed the job, so I just accepted it.

I was regularly spoken over, never asked for my opinion, and unable to interject easily because I was taking notes. I felt excluded and like my opinion didn’t matter, and it certainly wasn’t bringing out the best in me. Looking back now, I can see it was a case of gender bias and I really wish I’d challenged it all at the time…but hindsight is a lovely thing.

Thankfully however, I later went on to work with an excellent leader whose demonstration of inclusive leadership was truly inspiring. They were a brilliant operational lead, but sometimes their focus on delivery performance meant some individuals were overlooked for input in team meetings because they weren’t leading those areas. In one of my regular performance reviews, I was asked for my feedback on how the meetings were running and this leader was shocked when I brought that lack of inclusivity to their attention. I really admired their next step, which was to reflect on my feedback with the individuals affected and discuss ways to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

After that, while the meetings were still delivery focused, the leader ensured they engaged all members for their updates and opinions on key issues. They also checked in on progress with the inclusivity of the meetings every month, seeking open feedback in the meetings and closed feedback one-on-one with each team member. I loved how they owned the feedback received, enacted real change, and were not complacent in ensuring the previous lack of inclusion didn’t return. I have never forgotten it.


The key to driving an inclusive culture

One thing that helps organisations drive an inclusive culture is a clearly defined mission, values and goals framework, with ‘inclusion’ at the heart of the values.

I have seen how this sets the right behaviour patterns. Embedding clearly defined values into the performance framework enables staff members to clearly understand what behaviour is expected of them, including leadership behaviours. CGI is a great example of this. We embed our values not only internally, but with our client relationships and supplier interactions, too – before becoming a CGI Partner, I was a CGI client, and I experienced this myself.

I saw how effective this approach was during the inter-departmental work I led on Brexit. It’s hard to describe how fast-paced, demanding and difficult some of the Brexit delivery work was. Key briefings, impact assessments and other key policy and advisory work to ministers and stakeholders had to be delivered quickly and to a high quality. What really helped were our clearly defined values and behaviours, as we were able to call out those who weren’t adhering to them, and ensure we all worked as a team.

There was one Senior Director who was amazing during this period. They drew on all expert opinions on an issue before resolving, advising on recommendation options to mitigate. They skillfully obtained everyone’s input at pace, to ensure quality product/ministerial advice was provided - no easy task with a room of up to 40 people. I learnt so much from their approach, and it helped me chair key decision boards in my future leadership roles. I considered all opinions in the final decision-making process so that no key information was missed in the analysis. Ultimately, it meant that the right decisions were made, based on quality evidence on complex matters brought to me as the senior decision maker.


Shaping my own inclusive leadership style

Today, I realise all these experiences – and there are more! – shaped me as a leader. I have learned from the good and the bad examples, including questioning my own bias on a regular basis to ensure everyone on my team feels included. I undertake annual unconscious bias training, and I recommend this to others.

I also always recommend using the resources around you to assess how inclusive your leadership performance is, and what areas you need to work on. Ask for feedback via surveys, 360 feedback exercises, and other mechanisms available to you.

I cannot understate how important all of this is. We all have a leadership shadow, either through the teams we manage or people we interact with, and you should never underestimate your impact and how you can contribute to an inclusive leadership culture. 


Inspired to take the next step in your career? Check out the stories of some of the Women of CGI and keep an eye on our Careers page for open opportunities.