Monday, 17 October 2016

Don't count people - make people count

I recently gave a talk at an event called Inclusive Workplaces, focusing on how SMEs can embed E&D into their business. I was a late substitute for a speaker who is an E&D specialist, and my talk built on what she was going to cover whilst looking at E&D from an HR perspective. The talk was well received and I've put the main points down here.

I worked in an organisation that really "got" E&D and inclusivity (I'll use the phrase E&D to refer to a broad spectrum of terms like inclusion etc) and on reflecting on this experience for the recent talk, I looked at what worked in that organisation and what I'd recommend if you are looking at how to embed E&D in your organisation.

In general though my view is that E&D is about having an amazing workplace - the two go hand in hand - and if you focus the right way on engagement then you'll get E&D, and vice versa.  But here's my building blocks:
  • Commitment from the very top - we had a CEO and a Board who understood and were passionate about E&D, and kept it at the forefront of organisational thinking
  • Someone to co-ordinate and pull everything together - we had one person to centrally manage E&D and keep all the various plates spinning (though this could be a double-edged sword later on)
  • Involving the local community - there were lots of groups related to protected characteristics who were keen to help us develop services and employment
  • External scrutiny and recognition - a plethora of organisations came to inspect us, grade us and recognise our practice, and this made us up our game
  • Collecting and using data - going beyond compliance, we were able to explain regularly why we were collecting data and show examples of how we used it to drive service improvement and staff engagement
  • Managing the supply chain - involving Procurement in creating guidance for our potential and actual suppliers, giving them a step by step approach to adopt our E&D principles, offering free training for their staff if they signed up to our commitments
  • Comms team on board - we had a strong comms team who were bought into the vision and reality of an inclusive workplace, who helped us to promote events, campaigns and could highlight any successes we had
  • Reviewing the employer brand - we did videos promoting inclusive employment practices on the recruitment microsite, case studies promoting positive action initiatives and more - we also made the whole website all singing and all dancing with information available in lots of different ways, media and formats
  • Embedding into performance management - we broke E&D down down by service area with headline objectives for each area and individual objectives for staff that could be measured in appraisals, with a simple list of tasks that any member of staff could do to evidence getting involved in E&D activity
  • Taking on public duties - we became a Hate Crime reporting centre (when we didn't need to) and this helped our public image aswell as bringing this important area to the fore
  • Leading the community - we organised community events to celebrate diversity - this helped us set up support groups for both customers and staff linked to protected characteristics
Ultimately we made E&D about helping our customers, and not about looking at protected characteristics - it was our ethos, our culture and our values - and it wasn't something separate or different.

But there were drawbacks, as I noted in my talk:
  • Relying too much on one person - we had an excellent person to co-ordinate it with a great deal of knowledge and enthusiasm aswell as a strong network of contacts - but when this person left, we found we couldn't get anyone to replicate this and the momentum was lost
  • Allowing one PC to dominate to the exclusion of others - the strength of some community groups focused on the BME community compared to some other groups linked to other protected characteristics allowed them to dominate the agenda somewhat, out of proportion
  • Pressuring staff to get involved just because they have a particular PC - we tried setting up a staff LGB group that contained the 3 LGB staff that we knew about - and not all of these were keen to be involved.  Sometimes we'd ask their opinion just because they were LGB, and that wasn't helpful
  • Taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut - we ran some Trans awareness campaigns that were really powerful and illuminating, but we had no Trans staff or applicants and only a tiny % of Trans customers, so the vast majority of staff didn't get a chance to utilise their new knowledge
  • Other organisations don't always share your enthusiasm - be careful if you work closely with another organisation in that this organisation may not have the same approach to E&D as you do, and if you end up merging with an organisation there may be real differences to explore and one of the organisations will need to radically change its approach, which may be painful
So we had an Inclusive Workplace, with lots of things that worked, and some lessons that I learnt along the way.  I'd sum up my thinking on inclusivity as follows:
  • Have targets but don't let these get in the way of doing the right thing.  Use your E&D targets to evidence improvement and traction, rather than a stick to beat yourself with.
  • Let staff get involved in decision-making and tailoring the organisational approach to E&D - celebrate any successes and make E&D as fun and informal as possible
  • Dare to be different in your training - do drama-based workshops, and workshops on unconscious bias to help people understand the way they think
  • Break down your available data on both staff and customers by protected characteristic and look for any trends - work to redress negative ones
  • Allow people to voice any concerns they may have and have adult-adult conversations about E&D.  But if there are any instances of inappropriate behaviour - act upon and challenge these straight away.

I also think its true that you reap what you sow at work, in every sense.  If you're willing to put in the effort and energy to make your workplace amazing and inclusive, you'll achieve it.  If you're not, well, you won't, and it won't be as happy a place.

If you're going to have an inclusive workplace, focus on enriching the employee experience and make it an amazing place to work...

...So don't count people - make people count.

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