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Emma King on Inclusionary Leadership

19 June 2017 By Will Brodie

Emma King
Emma King

You’d expect Emma King, CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Services, to be a champion of inclusionary policies.

She is, but she believes they are pointless without genuine leadership.

“You can have all the best policies in the world, but you must enact them or they’re not worth anything.

You have to walk the walk.”

Emma’s organisation, dedicated to fighting “entrenched disadvantage”, has enviable gender balance, but King felt it wasn’t well enough informed on disability. So VCOSS hired a person who is hard of hearing and a person who is vision impaired.

The decision paid off immediately. A training awareness session led by the new staff members revealed VCOSS staff were being exclusionary without knowing it.

Emma says this “lived experience” is essential for any organisation to tap if it is serious about embracing a diverse workforce.

“When people go for jobs here we very deliberately look at diversity in the organisation and expertise we may not already have.

“Disabled people aren’t being tapped into throughout the workforce… Parts of it just aren’t that hard. Get advice from the people with lived experience. Value their expertise.”

Emma says the National Disability Insurance Scheme represents an “enormous opportunity” for people blocked out of employment, but she is disappointed that only 14% of those being recruited have a disability.

Leadership is vital to changing those sort of statistics.

The inclusionary leader will make sure staff are a good cultural fit, to make policy ambitions reality.

“You need to know they’re people with belief in the organisation and its goals,” Emma says.

“And you have to instil the culture you aspire to. You must go through policies actively with staff. I constantly learn from my staff.”

The VCOSS boss also gained “incredible insights” from Leadership Victoria’s Williamson program.

“It was a key moment for me, I saw what key things mattered to different leaders.”

 “You can hear leaders talk, then you can see who lived what they said.”

Recruitment is the obvious test of such leaders.

“There is often a difference between how organisations and boards perceive themselves and how they actually are… Organisations can hide things quite well.”

VCOSS is now recruiting indigenous employees as part of their Reconciliation Action Plan.

“(Such policies) must be embedded in the organisation, they must be staff-driven. They must be a living document. Having goals is important but it’s more important what actions we put in place.”

Walking the walk is what matters.