The membership sector is constantly evolving and as we grapple with the need to remain relevant for an ever-changing member base, we must be open to continually modernising our boards and leadership practices.

A critical topic, thrust firmly into the spotlight this year, is the need for more visible, positive leadership in our sector. As a new era of inclusive leadership is ushered in across businesses, membership sector leaders have the opportunity to define what inclusive leadership means for our sector.

For membership organisations, inclusion must extend not only to employees and internal stakeholders, but beyond into the increasingly diverse member base. Leadership must therefore be reflective of the changing demographic, whilst practices must be modernised and adapted.

This article explores how the membership sector is redefining leadership; the role of inclusive leadership in modernising membership organisations; and how inclusive leadership can be identified and demonstrated in the hiring process.




Inclusive leadership is the practise of listening and fostering a culture of collaboration and transparency, or as CEO of membership organisation Inclusive Employers Peter Howarth puts it, inclusive leadership boils down to being yourself and being prepared to learn.

The Harvard Business Review expands to suggest 6 core traits of inclusive leaders:

Visible commitment advocating for diversity and inclusion

Humility displaying modesty of capabilities and the ability to take ownership of mistakes

Awareness of biasincluding both personal blind spots and advocating for others to become more self-aware

Empathy and curiosityseeking to understand and curious about others’ viewpoints

Cultural intelligence - attentive and sensitive to multiple cultures

Effective collaboration fostering teamwork, working together and recognising strengths and contributions across individuals



Inclusive leadership, and in particular the practice of self-aware bias and empathy, goes hand in hand with promoting diversity and inclusion. When fostering an inclusive leadership style, all individual contributions are welcome, ensuring a level playing field for employees of all demographics and backgrounds.

“For inclusion to become an everyday reality and part of the fabric of an organisation, leaders need to be visible supporters of all things I&D.” Inclusive Employers

This is especially crucial in our sector. As representatives of member voices from a myriad of backgrounds, membership organisations must lead by example and ensure strong EDI is woven into every part of the organisation. With diversity and inclusion front of mind, membership organisations will in turn attract more diverse members, experience higher member engagement, strong member loyalty and ultimately understand the needs of their members in which to serve them better.

A strong EDI ethos starts with inclusive leadership and leaders who can foster a culture of inclusion, empathy, transparency and collaboration. All key traits that you should be able to demonstrate, and identify, during any leadership hiring process.



Inclusive Leadership not only serves the needs of your members, but ensures the satisfaction, productivity and innovative contributions from your internal teams.

In advocating for individual contributions and promoting a culture in which diverse ideas are heard, inclusive leadership ‘leads to a more productive team that have the courage to deliver’ (Institute for Construction Engineers). This in turns spurs innovation, reducing the ‘risk of “group-think” leading to more diverse perspectives and decision making’ (Professional Publishers Association). Bringing together diverse teams with various backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences leads to innovative problem-solving and well-rounded decisions.

When employees’ contributions are valued this increases morale, reflected in higher talent retention rates and in turn positioning your organisation as an attractive employer.

By serving both your internal and external stakeholders with positive experiences, you will elevate your brand’s reputation and relevance with positive effects on our sector as a whole.



Only a third of leaders have an accurate understanding of their inclusive leadership capabilities (HBV). Being aware of your own strengths and gaps in inclusive leadership will stand you in good stead when seeking your next role. Comparatively, being aware of how to identify core inclusive traits in others is key when seeking ethical leaders to join your organisation.

If you’re moving onto your next leadership position, reflect on your abilities and experiences in relation to the six core traits outlined above, and consider how you might answer the questions below.

If you’re interviewing for your organisation’s next leader, look out for both direct and indirect, and verbal and non-verbal cues that will reflect the candidates position on the six core traits of inclusive leadership. 

Below outlines what candidates need to demonstrate under each trait and suggested questions to help explore further:


Visible commitment

Candidates should demonstrate their personal commitment to DEI, how they celebrate diverse teams and advocate for inclusion across the organisation.

  • How do you define inclusive leadership and its importance to the membership sector?
  • What personal values guide your approach to building and leading diverse teams?
  • How do you promote a culture of inclusion within your team or organisation? Can you provide specific initiatives or policies you've implemented?



There are no egos here. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to own mistakes, openly share their learnings and credit ideas that are not their own.


  • Can you share an experience where you had to acknowledge that your initial approach or decision wasn't the best? How did you handle that situation, and what did you learn from it?
  • Describe a situation where a team member's idea significantly contributed to the success of a project. How did you ensure that their contribution was acknowledged and appreciated?


Awareness of Bias

Candidates should be able to demonstrate self-awareness of their own limitations and gaps and their proactive steps to address them.

  • How do you evaluate your own diversity and inclusion progress?
  • What steps do you take to ensure your leadership approach evolves in response to the changing landscape of diversity and inclusion in our sector?


Empathy and curiosity

Candidates must actively demonstrate their ability to listen and pay attention to the use of inclusive language throughout the interview process.

  • Can you share a specific instance where you had to navigate a disagreement or conflict within your team? How did you approach understanding the different viewpoints involved?


Cultural intelligence

Candidates should display cultural sensitivity and attentiveness, drawing on past experiences and scenario based responses.

  • Can you share a specific experience where you worked with a culturally diverse team. What challenges did you face, and how did you adapt your leadership style to foster collaboration?


Effective collaboration

Candidates show a commitment to collaborating with others and fostering a culture of collaboration amongst teams.

  • What role do you see collaboration playing in achieving strategic goals?
  • Describe a situation where you took the lead in fostering collaboration, including your actions and the outcomes of the collaboration.



As the demographics of our member bases experience rapid diversification, membership organisations’ abilities to recognise and respond to these changes is both a moral and strategic necessity. Therefore, the need for inclusive leadership, with its foundation in openness and equity, that reflects this diversity is a top priority for executive search.

Candidates wishing to secure their future must demonstrate inclusive leadership qualities and practice, whilst those seeking to future-proof their organisations must ensure their next leader shares this commitment.

Leveraging the expertise of an experienced Executive Search partner can help to effectively identify, attract and appoint leaders who embody these traits. External partners can help to remove hiring bias as well as offer access to diverse talent networks.

At Membership Bespoke we boast a rich network full of membership sector talent. Find out how we can streamline your search for an inclusive leader, or help you find your next leadership position.