Brigitte Cerfontaine on how to be an Inclusive Leader: there’s more to it than meets the eye

by Alvara • Feb 16, 2021 in Events, Featured, Growth and Development Programme at P&G

Brigitte Cerfontaine talks to Workero about inclusive leadership and how it extends beyond diversity, how it impacts employee engagement, and leads to innovation.

Brigitte Cerfontaine is the founder of the think tank Includers and an Inclusive Leadership expert. With more than 30 years’ experience at Procter and Gamble where she assumed roles ranging from Marketing Director, Vice President of Global Brand Building at P&G’s Brussels Innovation Centre, to leading cultural transformational efforts and Diversity Initiatives, Brigitte has seen first-hand what it takes to arrive at innovative breakthroughs.

Workero was fortunate enough to talk to Brigitte before the upcoming Masterclass event (11 March) to hear what she has to say about the topic of inclusion.*

When one hears the word ‘inclusion,’ one immediately thinks of diversity: namely, including persons from traditionally underrepresented groups. And I see you were indeed part of P&G’s Fabric and Homecare Diversity initiative and cultural transformation efforts. But it seems to me that your idea of inclusion is broader?

Yes, it’s much broader [than diversity]. Diversity is all about quotas and having a number of persons sitting at the table; diversity doesn’t mean that people are being listened to, or that they’ve been included and valued in a way that actually helps them to contribute with their best ideas, and that these ideas are applied to resolving problems. Inclusion is allowing people to speak and to truly listen to them.

Hence, inclusion is about more than just physically including underrepresented persons; it’s also about ensuring that people are not left out of conversations or excluded in subtle ways.

Yes, and leaders’ behaviour is key to this: they have to make sure that the team works in an inclusive way.

What initially drew you towards the topic of inclusive leadership?

First, it was due to my personal experience. I was the first woman hired in marketing, assignment, and later the first female Marketing Director in P&G Belgium. And back in 2000-2001, when we initiated the first big diversity effort at P&G, they looked at the numbers and realized that I was the only woman on the director level across all departments in EMEA, Fabric & Home Care. In many ways I had to take on a pioneering role. I had been, and was, still the only women in a lot of meetings and it was natural for me to share my experience and help with others. Now, many years later, I’m still drawn to the topic. While there has been a lot of progress, things have not progressed as well as they should have. And this isn’t good. We need everyone’s ideas to resolve serious issues such as climate change. It’s my mission to remove the obstacles that prevent us from listening to talented people, whoever they are, and wherever they come from.

You say that inclusion is an attitude that we have to cultivate in ourselves. Why do you think we struggle to cultivate inclusive environments and mindsets?

The fear of the unknown. Another challenge is learning how to listen - which is closely tied to curiosity and wanting to understand others. But the biggest challenge is to honestly assess how inclusive you are. Many people don’t even realize that they’re not being inclusive. One way of determining how inclusive you are is, for example, to check your Facebook and Linkedin friends and contacts. If you’re seeing a homogeneous group of people, there might be a problem. If you want to determine how inclusive your work environment is, look at your team’s engagement with their work. Engagement levels will be high when people feel included: that is, when their input feels meaningful and valued.

Suppose one finds oneself in an environment where inclusion is not yet present. What can one do to be heard and included?

Personally, I always keep in mind that we’re all just people: each individual is equal, has the same value, and the same rights. As such, I view myself as just another person, with equally important things to say as other persons. Yet, on a more practical level, in the past I’ve also had to deliberately make myself stand out and be heard: at one stage, I intentionally dressed in bright colours (among all the grey suits), I had to interject in meetings in order to have a say, and I wouldn’t hold back witty remarks when I perceived I was being left out of the conversation. So, it’s a balance between being yourself, but also responding to your surroundings in order to be able to share your unique perspective with others. The moment you hide yourself, you hide your creativity and your unique contribution to the world.**

To attend Brigitte Cerfontaine’s masterclass on Inclusive Leadership and how it impacts innovation, join the Workero by P&G ecosystem here. In addition to entering into an ecosystem where relationship-building, trust (and inclusion!), is central to working together towards innovation, members - from startups to P&G employees - benefit from twelve masterclasses led by experts throughout the year.

*The interview has been edited for brevity.

** Brigitte recommends the book A Peacock in the Land of Penguins , that addresses this issue in a fun and humorous way.