How inclusive leaders can harness the power of sharing stories

Uma Oldham
By Uma Oldham | 15 March 2022
Uma Oldham

Uma Oldham, Head of Group Marketing, SBS

We all have our stories. Our life is full of moments that make us who we are today and can shape how we react to different situations. Importantly, we bring these stories to work.

That moment where you feel insecure or disrespected will most likely be linked to a moment from your past. That person in your team who always seems to disagree with everything has a story.

To be inclusive leaders, I believe that creating a safe space to share our stories is key. As part of our journey to being a more inclusive place to work at SBS we are embracing the Indigenous terms of reference, which is about fostering a relationship of trust, respect and understanding by people sharing their backgrounds.

Where did you grow up and who were the traditional owners? Do you have any siblings? Do you speak a different language? What are your passions and interests? Our marketing leadership team recently did this and while there were varied levels of sharing, I came away with a deeper sense of understanding of my colleagues and what makes them tick.

As the Co-Chair of one the SBS Employee Advisory Groups, SBS Multi, which is about driving an inclusive workplace for multicultural staff, at one point we felt we lacked momentum. We wanted to improve alignment between us, our executive sponsors, and our People and Culture team on our roles and responsibilities as a group – how we interacted with each other, how we made decisions and our governance structure.

So we got together with an external facilitator to create an SBS Multi terms of reference document to formalise our approach to this. As an intro, we shared our story and at the midway point we shared our superpower and our kryptonite (weakness.)

This allowed for honest conversation, a deeper sense of understanding of where people were coming from and what strengths people brought to the table that could offset people’s weaknesses. Off the back of this, we are now a cohesive team and have just launched a new cultural leave policy that allows staff to swap a mandated public holiday for a day that has more cultural significance for them.

Without this sharing and connection which built mutual trust, I don’t think this would have been possible.

So how do we as leaders foster a safe space for people to share?

Well, it starts with us. As leaders, we often feel obliged to put on a brave face for our teams and to just focus on the work. Over the pandemic, I have been open with the team about where I’m at, my children have featured in many meetings and the team have seem me in disarray – all that has fostered more connection and (I think) made me more human.

In our fortnightly meetings, I’ll often make sure we have time to talk about what people are looking forward to post pandemic, what their strengths and kryptonite are, and what they are most proud of. The more we do it, the more open people become. This has created a strong sense of belonging in the team.

It’s hard in this virtual world of back-to-back meetings to make time to have a chat and connect. It can seem frivolous. However, I believe as leaders it is our duty to slow down, be vulnerable and create a safe space for our team.

Because if people feel safe and have that sense of belonging, they will be motivated to share ideas, be more committed to going above and beyond, and ultimately this creates a better workplace. That is the power of sharing stories.


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