Exertis drives D&I agenda

Lip service will do nothing to advance the spread of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the channel. What we need are real-world examples of inspirational D&I champions.

Enter Exertis’ HR Director Nick Foster and Chief Digital and Marketing Officer Vishal Chhatralia.

Comms Dealer always seeks to champion shining examples that reveal the real human and business benefits of greater equality, diversity and inclusion in business and beyond. Why? Because industry research and discussion alone will not solve the channel’s diversity and inclusion deficit. It needs real-world leadership and a cultural stimulus, as shown by global distributor Exertis which has launched a set of diversity and inclusion initiatives to strengthen the organisation and better relate to customers’ needs...

What is your diversity and inclusion strategy?
Nick Foster: Creating a truly inclusive workplace starts with building awareness about the unconscious bias we all have and educating ourselves about how bias impacts our thinking patterns, decision making and culture. This takes time but starts with a plan. We began the journey by raising awareness of the issue through education, including online learning modules, and the creation of D&I action-oriented teams in each of our businesses around the globe.

How do you quantify the positive impact of a more diverse and inclusive workforce?
Vishal Chhatralia:
There are many ways to measure the positive impact of a diverse and inclusive strategy. On one level, it is empowering for every individual to know that they are in a meritocratic organisation that rewards talent from whatever background. The best ideas and performance flourish. That’s a culture which encourages and celebrates diversity in thought and ideas and is inclusive of all views. This can be quantified by higher engagement scores, measured through weekly, monthly and quarterly employee pulse checks. The quantified positive impact can be modelled to the financial benefits of a more engaged workforce.

An open and inclusive workforce fosters more diverse ideas which create disruption in the industry, build new value for customers, create innovation for the business and ultimately drive stronger financial performance. Again, the quantifiable positive impact of a diverse team which yields greater innovation can be seen across industries. Businesses with the most diverse boards are outperforming those with lower levels of diversity at board level on all fronts.

What is your leadership structure in terms of diversity and inclusion?
Nick Foster:
We have focused on improving every aspect of D&I in some way rather than creating an artificial target. Each business has its own leadership team and along with local management everybody has a diversity and inclusion objective. These goals range from committing to improving internal processes such as recruitment to actively engaging with our customers’ and vendors’ initiatives and making sure we’re talking about issues at every opportunity.

Globally we have a diversity and inclusion council which is sponsored by Tim Griffin, Managing Director of DCC Technology, and has representatives from every business and geography. The only qualification for representing your business is that you have a passion for D&I and are willing to share best practice across the division. Each individual business tends to have a local team made up of a cross section of employees who want to deliver change.

How do you identify D&I success models?
Vishal Chhatralia: Our D&I initiatives are designed to achieve organic change, not just to hit a target, and that means addressing these issues in a holistic way. This involves many activities, from our high-visibility support for campaigns such as International Women’s Day, to our involvement with media campaigns that celebrate success stories. We have a dedicated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team (EDIT) which works to ensure that we as a business support, celebrate and promote key events in the calendar, such as Pride, Diwali or International Women’s Day.

How far does a company’s success hinge on developing a diverse and inclusive workforce?
Vishal Chhatralia: In these times it will be those that are able to see and empathise with their customers’ needs who will win. We must continue to build a diverse organisation, which matches the diversity of those customers and partners we serve. Where we have more diversity, we see within our organisation that we have better and more non-linear ideas and innovation driving growth. Organisations, irrespective of industry, perform better with greater diversity.

How do your recruitment policies support a more diverse workforce?
Nick Foster: We recruit all over the world and the majority of our businesses have diverse workforces by virtue of their locations. To continue to improve we have looked carefully at our attraction strategies to make sure we are reaching out to a broad spectrum of talent and communities. We’ve also changed a number of our policies to increase flexibility which in turn attracts a more diverse candidate base. We insist on our recruitment partners and in-house teams presenting truly diverse talented shortlists. This has seen a significant increase in diversity at our leadership and management levels.

How else are you tackling the unconscious bias issue?
Nick Foster:
This is an ever-present issue. In 2020 we asked all our employees to engage with an interactive e-learning platform to explore the topic. To support this our businesses held town halls where the issues were highlighted, and we created tool kits for awareness building. We realise this is just a start and each year we plan to raise the bar.

How has Covid-19 impacted your outlook on D&I initiatives?
Vishal Chhatralia: Throughout the past year Covid-19 has had a number of profound effects, many of which will prove lasting. With more of our people working remotely, transacting digitally and meeting virtually, the business becomes less dependent on location and we see a fundamental shift in working patterns. That creates new recruitment opportunities for those with requirements for different working patterns such as working parents and those supporting dependants. This is a big opportunity for a business that aims to become more inclusive.

How do you keep the diversity and inclusion agenda alive and relevant?
Vishal Chhatralia:
A key part of embracing this digital journey involves changing the way we communicate with all of our people wherever they are. With many working from home it’s important that we maintain a strong culture that all our people feel a part of, wherever they are. D&I naturally becomes a vital and positive part of this, with D&I messages forming a significant part of awareness days, town halls and all of our people-focused internal comms.

Why must companies put D&I front and centre now?
Nick Foster:
It is up to all of us in this industry to adapt to changing times or risk become irrelevant. If you are not providing an inclusive workplace then you are going to miss out on massive talent pools as candidate choose to engage with organisations that reflect and enhance their value set.

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