A blueprint for D&I

Before embarking on a diversity and inclusion journey it’s vital to understand what that truly means. Here, Zen Internet HR Director Ayshea Robertson offers practical strategies that provide a D&I blueprint for all organisations.

Industry research and discussion alone will not solve the channel’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) deficit, it needs a stimulus from shining examples of D&I champions such as Zen Internet. Here’s how the company has been leading the charge towards a more diverse workplace...

How did Zen initiate its D&I journey?
Zen began by developing a people strategy that incorporated D&I as a key area of focus. We identified that an effective internal communications programme would be crucial for getting company wide buy-in as we worked towards ensuring a more inclusive environment. In parallel we reviewed our existing policies, while also reviewing our relevant training programmes from a D&I perspective.

The next step was to form a number of D&I network groups to focus on key areas of our strategy and take action. Our founding groups were Pride, Women in Tech, BAME, Faith and Pause (Menopause). The groups are all led by various people from across the company who have a particular passion for their area. Volunteers from across the business are members of these groups and together everyone helps to deliver the actions. It was important that each group had a vision and set of objectives in order to take positive action and make a difference.

Then we created a Steering Group that closely monitored the strategy and ensured that the activity from all of the network groups was aligned.

How did you break the strategy into manageable chunks?
We looked at it from a three year planning perspective and defined what we wanted to achieve each year. Zen’s initial three year strategy followed these lines...

Year 1: Develop the People Strategy and introduce internal communications. Review the current diversity landscape and establish a plan for how to move D&I forward.

Year 2: Launch D&I network groups and create a vision and objectives for each one. Create a D&I steering group and start raising awareness.
Year 3: Concentrate on the delivery of objectives. Continue to raise awareness and start benchmarking against other companies. Plan for year four and five actions, then measure and celebrate your achievements.

Where are you on your D&I journey?
We have made significant strides in recent years. It is an integral part of our People Strategy. Much of what we have achieved to date has been from an internal perspective. Our D&I networks have been raising awareness, tackling issues, providing support and delivering initiatives. Company wide data ensures that we have an understanding of the diversity make up at Zen. From this we can benchmark, monitor and track our progress.

Over the next two years we will continue to deliver against our objectives in part by establishing relationships with external people and organisations, such as local schools, colleges, universities, diversity groups, companies, customers and competitors, in order to share best practice and work together to make a difference.

What were the biggest stumbling blocks to becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation?
The tech and telecoms sectors are heavily male dominated, therefore a key barrier from a women in tech perspective has been simply attracting women in the first place. There are a number of reasons for this, including role/gender stereotyping, lack of awareness and perceived lack of flexibility. We have seen a big shift on flexibility since the pandemic outbreak due to flexible and remote working becoming the norm. This has opened up opportunities for women who were seeking a more flexible working arrangement, and has already started to help us attract more women to apply for roles.

The women in tech agenda is only one part of the diversity journey. When it comes to having a well rounded D&I strategy, every group has to be considered. And this was one of the main reasons we set up a number of D&I networks so we could ensure progress in all areas of D&I. There have, however, been challenges in each of the groups that we’ve had to tackle along the way.

One of the biggest challenges to becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation has been around changing mindsets (both internally and externally): Getting people to think differently, to understand unconscious bias, to realise that proactive action is what is required to move the needle, to have uncomfortable conversations when required, and be brave enough to call issues out. This is a process which takes time and involves awareness and development. It is ongoing.

How did you gain a deeper understanding of diversity within Zen?
This is an area that we have found challenging, and I would recommend you get into the practice of asking for diversity data into your organisation as soon as possible, so that you can start to build a good picture of what your challenges are and what your profile looks like.

There are various ways to collate the data, but the most important step in this process is to communicate to your people why you want this data in the first place. Establishing trust upfront is a critical step to be successful. You may need to use a number of methods to collate the data you’re after, such as D&I labelled surveys, or on appointment of a new starter.

The main thing to stress is you must ensure this data is only used for the purpose it was gathered, to help you deliver the right D&I initiatives and measure the progress of your D&I objectives. Remember that when getting involved in any sensitive data capture it is important to be aware of, and considerate to, the rules around employee consent and how you are allowed to use that data. Seek advice from an expert if you’re unsure.

Once you have some meaningful D&I data you will be able to analyse this and answer questions such as – do salary divides exist between male and female employees doing similar roles? How many people of a BAME background were promoted in the year? And so on. Once you understand what your diversity data is telling you, you will be able to focus your attention on areas of priority and set some realistic targets to work towards.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for businesses that have a D&I edge?
As we know, increased diversity brings a broader range of skills and experience, and consequently drives innovation and creativity. In fact, there are many reasons having a focus on D&I will create a competitive edge. Diversity allows different perspectives, and this helps develop more relevant products or solutions for customers.

A McKinsey study found that ethnically diverse workforces are more financially successful, and that companies with a better gender balance are more likely to outperform those that do not. Along with all this, companies that proactively embrace D&I have a greater talent pool to fish from, create a far better employer brand and are able to retain top talent.

A business that is not progressing or thinking about its D&I development risks having a narrow, one minded view of the world, as well as losing out on top talent and potentially underperforming.

What is your top tip for leaders looking to embark on their own D&I journey?
The first and most important thing is proactive and visible commitment from the top. You should develop a clear understanding of your D&I goals. If that vision is not clear for you as a leader, it will be really hard to make progress on that journey and get the buy-in from your people. Another critical point is getting your people involved in the journey – let them take ownership to generate ideas and deliver. The D&I agenda should be owned and supported by business leaders. Making a difference lies in bringing your people along with you.

Share this story