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Why target your leadership programmes?

Dr. Doyin Atewologun

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Services Inclusion Ecosystem© Change Programme

With the sudden shift in working arrangements caused by the global pandemic, in-house professionals and employee networks have found themselves asking “what now?” for equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I).



Without action, there is a risk of ED&I set-back. However, action without the evidence risks wasted resources and potentially detrimental effects.


The current change in working arrangements provides the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on your organisation’s current ED&I initiatives – what works and what isn’t working? Where is the evidence, and where is the opportunity for real change and impact? In this article, we focus on the role of targeted leadership programmes for advancing ED&I strategy by addressing some of the common myths surrounding them.


We were pleased to see EY’s Future Leaders Programme, designed and delivered by our team at Delta for EY’s high-potential minority ethnic professionals, featured in HR Magazine. The programme’s success comes from its rigorous, evidence-based design and collaboration with a partner that is committed to investing in initiatives that lead to measurable change.


Increasingly, organisations have been investing more in equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I), and targeted programmes provide the opportunity to streamline and significantly advance ED&I strategy. If, like many other businesses before the pandemic, you struggled to retain diverse talent, or reported lower engagement scores for minority/underrepresented employees, now is a good time to consider a targeted leadership programme, delivered virtually for the current context.


There are several myths surrounding targeted leadership programmes. We have summarised five of these below and outlined how we at Delta challenge traditional ways of thinking and doing to address them:


Myth 1: Targeted programmes send the message that minority talent needs to be “fixed”


As careers progress, technical skill and knowledge becomes less important than relationship-based political skill and influence. Research shows that this ‘relational capital’ – the opportunity to leverage networks and developmental relationships – is less accessible to minority professionals compared to their majority peers. Our approach does not “fix minorities” but provides insights from evidence and experience about navigating these often-invisible career barriers.


By identifying authentic leadership strengths in a psychologically safe space, our programmes equip and empower already ambitious and talented participants to drive and navigate their careers through cultural and structural barriers.


Myth 2: Targeted programmes don’t change structural or cultural barriers


The assumption that leadership programmes only impact a small group is based on many talent leaders’ long experience of leadership development. In contrast, at Delta, our signature approach of working across the organisation means that our programmes are designed to have wide reach and impact. To break down wider structural and cultural barriers for our clients, first, our programmes are designed based on context-specific business insights. This allows us to identify key “pressure points” for change to integrate into the programme design and content. Second, our programmes are designed based on our Inclusion Ecosystem© approach to organisational change which includes the active involvement and training of key stakeholders (beyond the participants). 


Myth 3: Managers find it challenging to buy-in and communicate nominations to participants 


We understand that talking about demographic differences like ethnicity and religion in the context of work feels uncomfortable, and we see this from our research. As part of our Inclusion Ecosystem© approach, we work with line managers to help them better understand the system, why it is important to recognise implicit barriers and biases, and how to challenge them confidently. 


Myth 4: The content is no different to open programmes vs. the content is too specific to minorities 


Targeted programmes should not deviate from the organisational leadership frameworks, nor should they overlook the importance of demographic characteristics which constitute individuals’ identities either. Research shows that spotlighting minority identities creates unique personal challenges that majority professionals are less likely to grapple with.  


Research also shows that the same behaviours enacted by members of majority groups (e.g., being assertive) are perceived differently when those behaviours are enacted by members of minority groups (e.g., interpreted as ‘aggressive’). Therefore, the content needs to be sensitive to perception challenges. Our participants work with our culturally intelligent expert coaches who support them in putting their leadership journey into the context of their personal (and intersecting) identities.  


Targeted programmes help talented minority professionals and the Inclusion Ecosystem© understand what it takes for a minority to authentically thrive in a majority context. 


Myth 5: Targeted programmes discriminate against majority members 


Open, or ‘traditional’ programmes do not necessarily provide the best opportunity for minority professionals. Research and experience suggest that minority professionals are less likely to be represented in ‘open’ leadership programmes and are less likely to leave with the practical tools and insights needed to succeed because these programmes are designed implicitly with the majority prototype in mind.  


Our targeted leadership programmes provide a psychologically safe space to explore authenticity, culture, possible imposter syndrome and self-limiting beliefs, and the career experiences that shape those beliefs – we speak directly to the minority experience in the specific context of organisational leadership. 


In summary, well-designed targeted programmes:


• Do not “fix” minority talent but provide a safe space to explore and navigate career barriers.
• Are designed inclusively to have wider reach and impact to tackle structural and cultural barriers.
• Support managers in talking about demographic differences and the personal and professional benefits of managing these effectively.
• Enhance organisational leadership frameworks, not replace them.
• Provide a suitable career advancement opportunity for minority talent that is not centred on a majority prototype. 


An evidence-based approach to targeted leadership programmes can catalyse your D&I agenda by meeting multiple strategic equity, diversity and inclusion goals concurrently. We encourage our clients to think intersectionally – could an intersectional targeted leadership programme help advance your D&I strategy?

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