Quest for people parity

Committed leaders can make a difference by doubling down on their critical diversity and inclusion (D&I) priorities and backing up their aspirations with solid initiatives and resources.

Here, Louisa Gregory, VP – Culture, Change & Diversity at Colt Technology Services, shares insights into how the company is creating an environment where all people are celebrated and can thrive.

COLT has made great strides since kicking off its D&I strategy, introducing new policies and improvements that earned it a high position in the Financial Times annual Diversity Leaders ranking, coming in at number 44 of the top 850 employers in Europe, and in the top tier for the telecoms sector...

How does COLT underpin its inclusive culture and leadership behaviours?
Since creating Colt’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategy we’ve invested in D&I with a full-time team to manage and oversee its implementation. Having the right organisational foundations in place is the starting point of an effective D&I strategy. There’s no silver bullet and we believe a combination of organisational foundations, initiatives and programmes are needed to move the needle. We have five pillars which outline our approach in building an inclusive culture. These are:
• Gender balance – looking at attracting and developing talent to build a balanced workforce.
• Pride – a focus on LGBTQ+ inclusion and creating an environment where anyone can flourish regardless of their gender expression or sexual orientation.
• Cultural awareness – making sure Colt is a great place to work for anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background.
• Enablement – it’s not always apparent, but many colleagues experience physical or mental challenges at work. We want to ensure Colt welcomes and treats everyone fairly, irrespective of any disability or long-term health condition.
• Multi-generations – today, most companies will have four or five generations working side by side. Colt is no different. We’re looking at how to make the most of each generation’s unique experiences.

How do you progress your D&I journey?
For important initiatives to be impactful, the right support policies need to be in place, all systems and people processes must be reviewed for bias and adjusted accordingly, and you need an understanding of the current employee demographics. Writing policies to support the organisation isn’t always as exciting as developing programmes and building capability, but it’s important to have policies in place first. Without them, you can’t create an environment where people recognise that they are safe to speak up to ask for support and therefore are enabled to thrive.

How do you tackle unconscious bias?
You never stop learning in this space and the process of identifying and addressing D&I issues that are less obvious to detect is an interesting one. Unconscious bias is a good example. The nature of bias and its impact in the workplace is wide ranging and comes in a multitude of different forms. And most obviously – the name says it all – it’s easy for unconscious biases to go unrecognised by those that hold them.

How do you engage employees and help them to challenge themselves?
Educating and equipping employees with the right tools to address D&I issues is essential. Colt conducts mandatory Understanding Unconscious Bias training that takes an in-depth look at the nature of bias and its impact in the workplace. It provides insight into how our behaviour might be affected by bias and what we can do to reduce and eliminate its influence on our working relationships and the decisions we make.

In 2020, we also trained all our people managers in inclusive leadership so inclusive behaviours becomes part of our day-to-day behaviours. This top down approach to D&I enforces these sorts of trainings and underpins them with leadership messaging that inclusive behaviour is important.

How do you overcome the challenge of collecting diversity information?
Gathering qualitative diversity data can be a challenge. Aside from the legal and regulatory compliance challenges, there are lots of reasons why individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their information. They might be afraid of the impact on their career by sharing personal details, might not understand its importance, or simply might not be aware of why it’s central to driving D&I.

We ask our employees to voluntarily and anonymously share information on their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability status, where we are legally allowed. This helps to build a clear picture of how Colt is made up. Alongside the request, we give clear and easily accessible information on what exactly it is we’re asking them to do, why we collect the data, what will happen to it and how it is protected.

This gives employees peace of mind and aims to encourage engagement. Importantly, it also educates the business on the value of the data and ties into our wider D&I internal messaging that is built on being open and transparent about our diversity journey. Authenticity and transparency are vital if you truly want to build an open culture that D&I strategies are designed to create.

What first steps should business leaders take when starting their own D&I journey?
One of the most fundamental elements is that you can’t make meaningful changes in D&I without budget. If it’s someone’s second job, other things will always get in the way. It is a business priority and you need people dedicated to it in the form of an official role or team.

Building inclusivity can take many years to achieve and needs continuous commitment from the top. That means leadership that dedicates budget and links inclusion to the growth of the business and the development of an inclusive company culture.

What are some of the positive business benefits of developing a D&I culture?
Diversity means businesses can benefit from different perspectives and draw from the widest possible pool of talent. Innovation is driven by diversity of thought and it’s well known and studied that more diverse companies outperform less diverse companies. Diversity brings many benefits, and at the end of the day it makes companies more financially successful.

It’s a business imperative and here lies the threat to organisations that do not work to become more diverse and inclusive. Without a range of perspectives and experiences around the table, businesses will fall behind – lacking in innovation and the ability to keep pace with competitors or deliver the right solutions for their customers.

To what extent will having a D&I culture be key to securing long-term talent?
The telco industry is at a retirement cliff and our sector needs to attract and retain both women and younger generations that are more driven by social activism. Future leaders are more drawn to work for companies that align with their personal values – diversity, inclusion, sustainability, ethics etc. We need to drive real actions and positive change if we’re to be an industry that future talent wants to join.

There cannot be diversity without inclusion. Organisations must work on both at the same time. Research shows that homogenous teams will actually perform better than diverse teams that exist without an inclusive culture. However, when teams are built with an inclusive culture thriving on diversity, these teams will usually outperform others.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted issues around D&I?
Since the start of the pandemic, D&I strategies and programmes have gained prominence with more work being done to support areas such as mental health, family needs or neurodiversity needs. We’ve been more open in conversations about topics like domestic abuse and what companies can do to support employees experiencing this.

We’ve seen a shift in the willingness of our employees to talk about more personal topics and gain a better understanding of what they can improve. The fact that people are embracing D&I issues means that we are moving forward faster.

From an employer point of view, by removing the barriers of being in an office they may find they’re able to tap into more diverse talent pools and create new opportunities for those currently under represented in the workforce. But whatever happens going forward, companies need to be hyper-vigilant to ensure that the work and investment made to move D&I programmes forward – and  in opening up conversations around D&I – don’t go to waste. We need to maintain the momentum and continue to drive positive change.

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