Takeaways from the inaugural Dods Diversity & Inclusion Annual Conference

Thu 15 Jul 2021

Takeaways from the inaugural Dods Diversity & Inclusion Annual Conference

“Powerful”. “Really informative”. “Great conference”. These statements, posted by delegates on our Glisser platform as the Dods Diversity & Inclusion Annual Conference drew to a close on 8 July, are a testament to what is here to become a staple in the calendar – a must-attend event for everyone involved in the multi-faceted challenge that is building and managing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The inaugural event, held online, brought together leading figures of the UK’s civil service, public and private sectors in live and interactive sessions that inspired, providing insight and actionable advice on planning and achieving specific goals – whatever the stage of their D&I journey.

Delegates can now relive and dive deeper into the information and guidance delivered by a stellar line-up of speakers. As part of the online experience, the video recordings and presentation slides will remain available on the platform for the coming weeks, as well as 13 on-demand skill sessions covering the gamut of management in the post-COVID era; leadership; and professional development and wellbeing.

With so much to digest, this review summarises some of the key takeaway messages from our inaugural event.

Government reform

In his keynote address, Government Chief People Officer Rupert McNeil explained that diversity and inclusion in the workplace are important development areas and have been included in the policy paper Declaration on Government Reform released in June. “It’s all about outcomes for citizens in the UK, and diversity and inclusion is the place to start,” he said before revealing that work is under way for a Diversity & Inclusion plan.

McNeil also explained that the government is committed to set a new standard and become “a role model for other employers in the UK”. In doing so, new approaches will be deployed to review recruitment processes and ensure job opportunities attract talent across the entire UK population. “We are talking about developing a connected government across the UK with career opportunities in every part of the country, open to all, dismantling barriers and a willingness to ask how to tackle disadvantage in daily life,” he said.

For McNeil, socio-economic background, cognitive diversity, and career progression within the civil service are focus areas to emphasize. “We need to be taking a really broad view about backgrounds, valuing and respecting different experiences and creating a workplace which is much more fluid, porous to people from other parts of the public sector and the economy,” he explained.

Culture change

All the speakers agreed that the best approach to embedding the inclusive mindset in the workplace is by looking at diversity from the identity perspective – and facilitating an environment where every person in the organisation understands and sees the need to be involved in the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Guest speaker Asif Sadiq, Head of Equity & Inclusion at Warner Media, reflected on this and suggested a multi-layered tactic in which communication is key. “Stop talking to groups in isolation,” he said before suggesting creating D&I initiatives that are relevant to everyone.

He also explained that having the diversity and inclusion narrative integrated into the mainstream communication of the company is essential for the future success of the business. “People want to engage with organisations who understand their values and who respect their diversity,” he noted.

Sadiq admitted that, in this process, it’s necessary to leave behind – and watch out for – micro-aggressions, stereotypes, and assumptions that we create in our minds and instead be ready to listen with an open mind.  

Marsha Ramroop concurred with Sadiq. The Director of Inclusion at the Royal Institute of British Architects – and Founder/Director of Unheard Voice Consultancy – discussed how cultural intelligence (CQ) is the answer to all the questions that emerge in the challenge of diversifying the workplace. “Culture matters for how you manage trust. It matters for how you deal with conflict. It matters for how you interpret contracts, and it matters for how we communicate with each other,” she explained.

The concept of cultural intelligence has been around for about 20 years and refers to the capability to work and relate effectively with people who are different from you.

Ramroop explained that cultural intelligence comes with a series of capabilities – drive, motivation, strategy, and action – which, in turn, allow for the development of a diversity and inclusion approach. She suggested to surround ourselves with the diversity of lived experiences and listen to those voices that are very different from our own.

Embracing the ‘uncomfortable’ conversation

The notion of integrating lived experiences of diversity was a clear message in the panel discussion with Daniel Aherne from Adjust and Elliot Rae from Music: Football: Fatherhood as they talked about the simple workplace adjustments that can be done to normalise neurodiversity and parenting.

Normalising the conversation about diversity and inclusion was precisely the key message in the panel discussion with Sherin Amisosshe, Director of Infrastructure and Race Champion at the Ministry of Defence; Gerri Clement, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Cross Government Social Mobility Network – and Programme Director, Civil Service HR, Cabinet Office; and Bhavik Pancholi, Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager at Mundipharma, recognised LGBT “Future Leader”.

From first-hand experience, the trio of speakers put the spotlight on the challenges and rewards of advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace – whether it’s about race, social mobility, or sexual orientation.

Speakers agreed with Ramroop that creating effective diverse teams is about aligning expectations, mapping their differences, creating straightforward approaches, and then drawing on diversity. “Whether it is recruitment, whether it is engagement, whether it is how you are managing diversity, your biggest enemy is bias,” she said, and concluded that adapting recruitment, career progression, advancing diversity and realising inclusion requires a comprehensive strategy – and doing the granular work.

Data, vision, and action plan

But before taking up on the granular work, organisations need a roadmap with a defined set of objectives, goals, milestones, and an action plan to achieve those objectives.

Jennifer Williams, Deputy Head of Diversity and Inclusion at ACAS, suggested starting by setting up the vision for diversity and inclusion in the organisation – and that’s where the D&I roadmap comes in. “The roadmap is a high-level overview of what you intend to do,” she explained, noting this can be a paragraph for all stakeholders to appreciate where you want to be. “It’s your vision for the future,” she added.

Williams noted that having a roadmap is key to developing projects, initiatives, and action plans and that these tools should incorporate the variables that the organisation wants to work on. She pointed out that it’s essential to also consider potential hiccups along the way, the risks involved, and the resources required to deal with them as they emerge.

She also pointed out that projects and action plans work best when they are broken down into sizable tasks for those involved.

“Gathering quantitative and qualitative data is crucial for this roadmap,” said Williams, adding that consultation across the organisation, particularly with trade unions, should be part of the process on an ongoing basis.

Nigel Dias agreed with Williams and said data can help organisations understand current demographics to measure impact and chart the progress. “Data increases the chances that the right decision is made, and therefore increases the likelihood of desired outcomes are achieved,” he said. Dias recommended using descriptive questions to define the type of data to collect and define the purpose of data collection as the foundation for a fact-based conversation.

The closing address by Emma Codd, Global Inclusion Leader at Deloitte, put this guidance in perspective. She explained how the company embraced diversity and inclusion and the cultural change it experienced between 2013 and 2014 – and how the D&I journey within the company is ongoing. Codd explained that a multinational company wanted to understand everyday behaviour, cultural issues, and diversity in the workplace. It did so by polling 5,000 women across 150 countries.

“The results were shocking,” she said, adding the survey revealed mental health, wellbeing, and motivation issues and that more than half of the staff had experienced non-inclusive behaviour. Codd noted that the lack of reporting was down to fear of its impact on career progression and the perception of these issues not being taken seriously.

Deloitte set targets to increase gender representation as it realised that only 13% of its 1,100 partners were women. Led by the CEO, the D&I strategy was integrated into the company culture and DNA in conversations about respect and inclusion. The company chose storytelling to convey the message and produced a series of films played by actors portraying stories from the staff around the world.

The work has proven fruitful. Codd said that female representation in the company has gone up to 58%. “Critical to achieving this transformational change was leadership support,” she concluded.

Looking ahead

Achieving an inclusive and diverse workplace is an everyday task. We have learned that such a transformational journey requires communication, trust, transparency, and investing time and resources in involving everyone in the organisation.

As delegates participated in the discussions with questions and sharing their experiences, it was clear that organisations are making progress in the understanding of diversity and inclusion from the different elements of people’s identity. Companies have begun to turn their efforts to normalise neurodiversity, disability, ageing, and menopause in the workplace.

Aligned with this trend, our events in August will spotlight the different approaches to embark upon such a transformative journey. These events will also be held online, and we look forward to bringing together delegates and expert speakers once again.

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