Getting diversity and inclusion into the DNA of your organisation

Toby’s route into diversity, inclusion and accessibility

I spent the first half of my career working in technology as an IT consultant before going over to the BBC which is where I got involved in accessibility projects.

I was working very closely with our Chief Operating Officer within the technology department. He was concerned, along with the rest of the senior leadership team that we didn’t have enough women working in the department.

At the time the BBC had a 50–50 gender split but within my technology department, only 14% of our workforce were women. I worked with the leadership team to come up with a plan to address the gender imbalance and that was my introduction to diversity.

After we’d started on the diversity journey in technology by looking at gender, we went and looked at other groups: race and ethnicity and disability. I have a disability myself and I used to also run the BBC’s disabled staff forum.

It was at that point, I realised I wanted to make a career out of diversity rather than IT project management. The timing worked out well, the BBC had appointed a new head of diversity so I went to work for him in the HR department.

I took on more BBC departments. I looked after radio, which was interesting because I heard how people were portrayed on the radio. Then all of the BBC corporate functions like finance and HR. Not a lot of organisations think about diversity beyond their four walls but it was very clear at the BBC that as a public service broadcaster it’s important to the Corporation to reflect the diversity of the nation.

Even now when I talk to a lot of commercial organisations I remind them that some of their stakeholders are their clients and they must reflect the diversity of their client base. And they should also think about inclusive procurement and supply chain channels and ensure they are working with a diverse range of suppliers.

Diversity includes everyone

Stephen Frost was head of diversity and inclusion for the London Olympic Games and he has written that diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice. We are all diverse, but everybody needs to be included.

I have designed a course called diversity includes everyone because that was the point I wanted to get across that we have to include everybody on the diversity and inclusion journey. I train senior leaders who are feeling disenfranchised, who think diversity and inclusion doesn’t apply to them. They feel threatened by diversity and inclusion. But if they are the ones holding the power or privilege within the organisation, they have to be on this journey. They have to be part of the solution.

About Toby’s book ‘Inclusive Growth’

A few things prompted me to write my book ‘Inclusive Growth’. When I read diversity and inclusion books many addressed the why but they didn’t talk about how heads of HR or HR practitioners or diversity and inclusion managers in an organisation could go about getting diversity and inclusion embedded within the business. Also a lot of books that I read focused on a particular group rather than a range of diverse characteristics.

It got me thinking. That coupled with my experiences of working in large businesses such as the BBC trying to effect change made me want to show how to get diversity and inclusion implemented sustainably. Not just focusing on one or two characteristics. And not trying to fix individuals but trying to address the culture and the structures of an organisation.

So those questions were floating around my brain. To make sense of all this, I came up with the inclusive growth model which has got seven components.

If you think of things in silos and take a hierarchical approach to this work it’s not a very efficient way of working. So for example, in one organisation we spent a long time developing a career development programme to get more women to the top of the organisation. And then the year after that we just duplicated that for people of an ethnic minority background. And then we duplicated it again for disabled people.

I was scratching my head thinking why don’t we have just one really good inclusive career development programme that serves everybody in the organisation?

It makes more sense from an intersectional inclusion point of view and financially. Sometimes people feel they don’t have the protected characteristics for inclusion but since inclusion means everybody, nobody is excluded.

The Inclusive Growth model

There are seven best practices. Working from left to right, they are divided into three groups: establish, enable and then enhance.

Establish is about clarity and culture. Clarity is about understanding your business case for diversity and inclusion; getting your hands on diversity data and making sense of that data and then creating a strategy once you have.

For getting that clarity, I have developed a webinar which is called ‘Connecting with your Why’. It was inspired by the book written by Simon Sinek called ‘Start with Why’.

What Sinek says is that you have this bull’s-eye with ‘why’ in the middle and then ‘what’ and ‘how’. He says if people work outside to inside they focus on how things should be done and what needs to be done. But this way of working means they don’t connect with the ‘why’. The most effective organisations connect with their ‘why’ first, even though it’s difficult to articulate first. It’s a good approach so check out his book.

Culture is about recognising what behaviours you want in your organisation to create an inclusive culture for your business. It’s thinking about how you can do that work that makes sure you see your leaders walking the talk.

To embed it in the business I’ve highlighted the areas of change, colleague experience and cyber.

Change is about having a proper change management approach. One of the biggest frustrations when I talk to diversity and inclusion or HR practitioners is that they get frustrated with the lack of impact they feel they are making as if they are chasing their tails.

Quite often it’s because they don’t have that kind of change management in place. When I worked in HR we implemented a new payroll system and had proper change management, project management processes in place but then when it comes to diversity and inclusion that is missing.

We don’t know what impact we want to make, we are not clear on our resources as stakeholders, that kind of thing. Within colleague experience, this is the crux of the model which is a quite different approach, taking a human-centred approach to diversity and inclusion.

This is a move away from trying to fix individuals which we often see. So career development programmes for women that are trying to fix women by looking at boosting confidence, things like that, rather than fixing the infrastructure or the systems holding people back in their careers.

And then the third element is cyber. That’s looking at the accessibility of technology whether that’s the internal systems or external systems you use. But also, how technology can help deliver diversity. There are all sorts of solutions and apps and other things and it might be that you use a system to capture microaggressions going on in the business which gives you a heat map of what behaviours are going on so that you can take action where needed.

I think the pandemic certainly compounded issues that were already there. Loads of organisations have learning management systems. I worked in one organisation where a member of the staff who had a hearing impairment wasn’t able to complete the mandatory training because that training didn’t come up with subtitles

I felt bad for him because every time he would get a message from HR saying, why have you not completed your training? And he got into trouble. The training just wasn’t accessible in the first place and it should have been.

The final section of my model has two areas. I talk about collaboration and celebration. I talk about the need for the whole of the organisation to take responsibility for diversity and inclusion and not just the HR department. I ask how you can work more collaboratively with people outside of your organisation, as well. By which I mean other people in your industry, clients or customers.

The celebration is about your employer brand. How you can create an inclusive brand and how you get that brand out to the market. So that you can be an attractive employer and attract diverse talent to your business. People will not apply to work with you if they don’t see themselves reflected in your business. When I decided on this framework I focused on celebration last because a lot of people place celebration first.

But the reality for employees is that it’s not a particularly inclusive place to work and in my podcast, I interviewed Sally Bucknell who is Head of Diversity and Inclusion at EY and she called it the rhetoric gap. EY moved away from submitting awards and what they started to do is empower their people to talk about working for the company through social media and conferences and things like that rather than try to go out and win awards.

What can companies gain by working with my Inclusive Growth model?

It might seem like quite a commitment in terms of looking at all of those different seven areas broken up into those three blocks. It can feel overwhelming because there are seven areas to be thinking about but the whole point is to try and get this embedded into the DNA of their business. What organisations gain from going through this process is that this becomes your organisation’s usual way of working.

One of the first conversations I have with clients around the framework is what does growth mean to you? I ask, ‘How do you want to grow as an organisation and how are diversity and inclusion going to enable that growth?’

I have not yet found a company that doesn’t want to grow in some way or another or cannot link to diversity and inclusion.

Conversations I have with people sometimes centre on the cost. I have to say to them, ‘Yes, you have to get resources into it. People, finance… but rather than thinking of it as simply a cost, think about what your return on the investment is going to be. Because if we look at how much it costs your business to have a disengaged workforce with a high turnover, it will be more. If we can reduce your attrition or increase employee engagement it’s worth it.’

One of my clients was saving hundreds of thousands of pounds by making even a small improvement in employee attrition. It’s an investment.

I think the thing that seems to be the tipping point for the clients I talked to is making sure that you get the senior leadership team on board. I talked to so many organisations where the head of HR or the HR business partner is frustrated because they know it’s the right thing to do but they are having a difficult job getting the senior leadership team to genuinely take this on board. Anything that you can do to get the senior leadership team on board makes your job easier after that.

I’m working with a client who has a Chief Executive with this great philosophy. I call it a flywheel, basically three elements. He says if you keep your colleagues or staff happy that will then deliver a better service to your customers and they will be happy which in turn develops better shareholders. That is his approach.

Examples of using the 7Cs Inclusive Growth Framework

I worked with a police force and for them, growth was about serving what they called, under-represented members of their community and getting better policing outcomes. They recognised if the police force reflected the diversity of the city they worked in they were doing a better job. To them, that was growth.

I have worked recently with a Fintech organisation that developed a banking app for entrepreneurs. They have ambitions to get their app out to as many entrepreneurs as possible. They recognised that entrepreneurs are a diverse bunch of people. When I sat down with the Chief Executive she realised when they were starting to engage with underrepresented users they were building a higher quality product because they were getting better feedback from people, as well.

There is the lightbulb moment that a lot of my clients have after I do a half-day boardroom session with them. I can see it. The Chief Executive and their senior leadership team then understand why or how diversity and inclusion link centrally to their business. It’s not just this thing that’s done on the side of the business or something that should only be left to the HR department to get on with.

It’s really about investing in people. I make the point in my book that some research was done which found that businesses that put people first are more profitable than those organisations that focus on profitability first.

I’m working at the moment with a medium-sized manufacturing firm. They are in Nottingham and the area is not that diverse. About 95% of their staff live within a few miles of their factory.

I was talking with the Chief Executive about how much diversity could be expected to get in the business? And the answer is actually if we are going to reflect the local area it doesn’t appear that diverse but we need to be focusing really on inclusion. What kind of environment or culture do we want people to move towards?

He was so interested in it because a few things had shifted in the last couple of years. One, they are trying to employ people outside of the Nottingham area. Since the pandemic, they realised that they could employ a salesperson who lives in Birmingham or London or Bristol and they don’t have to live in the area.

They also want to be a friendly place where people go and visit the factory, as well. For example, when lorry drivers show up, they are visitors. The company wants to make sure those visitors are welcomed.

I remember a few years ago working for a very rural, local authority and I was going to be doing some diversity training with them talking to the local councillors about this training and they were saying well we don’t need it. I was saying, ‘Why don’t we need it?’ They said because we don’t have any black people here. I said well, actually you do but they are in smaller numbers which means getting race relations right is even more important because those smaller groups of people can feel much more isolated.

But I also said, ‘Actually diversity is not just around skin colour. I asked, ‘You have women in this area?’

And they said, ‘Oh yeah.’

And then I said, ‘You have disabled people in this area?’ they said, ‘Oh yeah.’

So I asked if they had any gay people, and they said, ‘No we don’t have any gay people.’

Putting people in boxes and not thinking but even in a rural area, there will be people who are parents, people who are not parents, people who are single parents, younger people, older people… Inclusion is not just about the legal definition of those protected characteristics.

It’s about flexible working, which could be for someone who is doing a university degree which has nothing to do with their protected characteristic. And that’s a much better place to work for everybody in the organisation around the importance of hidden diversity.

A manufacturing client I have was quite embarrassed that their factory is not wheelchair accessible and I’m in a wheelchair. I was going to a half-day workshop with them and ended up delivering the session in a nearby hotel because I couldn’t get into the office. That is something that they are addressing.

I said to them it’s not just about wheelchair access, you need to be thinking about accessibility for other disabilities. You could have autistic people working in your company. To their credit, they started to think seriously about all different types of disability in the factory.

I think one of the challenges is how businesses respond to an increase in demand if you can put it that way. I talk to a lot of organisations who just say things like, ‘I have known that diversity and inclusion have been around for a while but it’s only now that I think our organisation needs to do something more serious about it.’

It might be that they had done some stuff but it was hit and miss and it was not integrated or embedded into the business. I suppose they are now thinking more strategically about it. I think there has also been a response to things like the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations around gender equality following what happened with the Met Police and Sarah Everard last year.

The social model of disability and inclusion

The social model of disability had a huge influence on the middle part of my book when I talked about colleague experience. The other model is the medical model and I have personal experience with both the medical and social model.

I appreciate the social model way of thinking when it comes to my experience of inclusion. I’ve therefore given thought to how we can embed that model into businesses more. That’s something I came across at Deloitte because we were looking at why we didn’t have many women operating as partners at the top of the business.

When we did focus groups and things like that none of the women said I think it’s because I am lacking in confidence or I think it’s because I don’t have a good professional network. It’s because the organisation at the time wasn’t very good at flexible working. That meant that was the first thing we looked at.

We looked at making sure that the company had really good flexible working practices in place for employees. We quickly realised that everybody benefits from it. The original was to look at gender balance at the partner level but we found that everyone was benefiting from it. I come from the viewpoint that we can make the world better for everybody through this sort of inclusive design.

An example of this is a personal story. I went over to Canada a few years ago and was going to a meeting with the television company Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). As I was approaching the building I noticed at the main entrance there was a post sticking out from the ground.

You could hit any point on this post and it would open the door. That was good for me. I could push the post with my feet on my wheelchair because I can’t lift my arms, which means I cannot push those automatic opening door buttons. So I could open the door myself with my feet.

There was a FedEx guy making deliveries carrying loads of boxes who went into the building just in front of me. He simply opened the door by touching the post with his knee.

This example shows how working within the social model of disability, which takes the perspective that people are disabled by physical and perceptual barriers in society, is very inclusive. It’s why the CBC solution for entering the building by touching this post was so great. It was not just me that benefited, it was also the FedEx guy.

Diversity on the boardroom agenda

The number one challenge for a lot of businesses is asking themselves, ‘If we are going to do this properly, how do we do it authentically and how do we do it where we are going to get a good return?’

I think the other challenge is looking at how the pandemic has impacted diversity and inclusion. We have seen the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on certain members of society. There are still questions about what a normal work-life looks like if we operate in a hybrid model. We are still starting to understand how to do that inclusively. How do we make sure that people are not left out if they need to work from home? I’m starting to hear those things more and more.

Loads of people have been benefiting from working from home, not just disabled people. We have to remember as well that not everybody can work from home. I think a lot of organisations come from a bit of a privileged position where a lot of their staff could work from home but we have to remember there are so many people in the country that cannot do their jobs remotely.

They might work at distribution centres, on shop floors, or in hospitals. A lot of conversations I’m having with those clients are on this topic because since these employees can’t work from home, it doesn’t seem very inclusive.

My answer is, no, they cannot do their job from home but some things can be done to make their role more inclusive. For example, there could be some flexibility around when they start and finish shifts. Having people start half an hour earlier or later can be a huge benefit to them if they have caring responsibilities, for instance.

Speaking the language of diversity and inclusion

Inclusive language is important and we should strive to be using it. I did a live Q&A the other day and someone said they got told off by the HR department for saying ‘Hey guys’ to the team. We had a good conversation thinking about when you address your team as ‘Hey guys’ whether that’s inclusive or not.

When you talk to senior leaders there are three parts. There is a logical part where they connect with an argument for diversity and inclusion. They might like to see the data. They might think about the bottom line.

Then there is the emotional connection. They might want to leave a legacy. They want their people to feel welcomed and empowered in the organisation. They might have a personal connection to diversity and inclusion so it’s close to their heart.

It’s important to understand what’s going on in our organisational cultures and as individuals. This is where we find things like thinking biases and where we might suffer from imposter syndrome which can relate to the fear of saying or doing something that might cause offence or embarrassment. That can hold us back from having those bold conversations that we need to have as inclusive leaders.

One language question that comes up a lot is whether we say disabled person or person with a disability. There are people on both sides of the argument. I have no problem with being referred to as a disabled person. But I know friends who don’t like that at all. My advice is that when you are working with somebody on a day-to-day basis just check in with them to find out what language they prefer.

Like people, diversity and inclusion are complex topics. Having an expert guide through the multiple layers of the topic is invaluable. To take an even deeper dive into the subject, I talk about all of the above and more in my book, which you can find at www.mildon.co.uk/book

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Toby Mildon

Toby Mildon

Diversity & Inclusion Architect. I like psychology, tech, ideas, design and food (esp. curry). Live with SMA.