Community, culture and education all have a role to play when it comes to building a successful inclusion and diversity programme. By Matthew West, SSE Enterprise Telecoms, part of the inclusion and diversity working group
Having studied Sociology and Politics at university, I’ve always had a deep interest in the role governance plays in how societies function and evolve. While my career took me in the direction of IT, and later Telecommunications — which I’ve immensely enjoyed — when the opportunity arose to be a key part of the inclusion and diversity (I&D) team at SSE Enterprise Telecoms, I jumped at the chance.
In the past few years, organisations of all sizes have been open to scrutiny (and rightly so) when it comes to I&D, and telcos are no different. We’ve seen companies openly reporting on numbers that often admittedly reflect a lack of diversity in their businesses, pledging to reach certain targets by a specific date. That’s a bold approach, and recognition of the challenge at hand, but I think it’s important to go a step beyond the numbers. Yes, they’re important, but driving real change is only really possible by focusing on four key pillars: community, culture, education and training.
It’s more than just data
It’s important, of course, to understand the make-up of your organisation in order to get a sense of just how inclusive or, in particular, diverse the business is. This can help you set goals, identify areas of focus and give your I&D drive a clear strategy. But relying too heavily on that data alone and striving to make it tell a better story is perhaps a missed chance to use an I&D agenda as a real opportunity for change.
The business benefits of setting an approach to I&D that goes far beyond the headline stats are clear; greater market competitiveness, higher corporate reputation, better talent recruitment and, according to 85% of CEOs, improved company performance.
But to get there you have to truly understand how people interact with one another. The best way to do that is to have voices from across the business telling you how it is. Having an I&D steering group that covers all levels and backgrounds can truly inform your approach by telling you exactly what’s needed.
Community and culture
Communities are fundamental to inclusivity and are particularly important during a time when we are all working remotely. As in society as a whole, the most effective communities are those built around common interests, beliefs or knowledge. Inside a company, communities enable people to make connections across departments, levels and geographies and they are fundamental to instilling a sense of inclusivity for people who perhaps don’t feel like they have other shared interests with their immediate team.
Something we introduced last summer, led by one of our colleagues, Michael Hector, was a virtual café that encouraged people of all levels to have a coffee and chat about health and wellbeing. It was a starting point to break down silos and to help people feel more involved — and something we are looking forward to building on.
By enabling communities to take shape and by giving everyone the opportunity to take part, or even spearhead these groups, you are taking the right steps in promoting a more inclusive culture within your organisation.
Education and training
Essential to driving cultural change of any kind, but in particular around I&D, is education and training. The truth is, many people simply don’t know enough about different backgrounds to fully appreciate and celebrate them. To really say you have a diverse organisation can’t purely be based on the numbers, it’s about the experiences of those within the organisation and how much they feel understood and appreciated based on their differences.
One way we are attempting to do this is to provide the opportunity for traditionally underrepresented groups to educate their colleagues through hosting lunch-and-learn sessions or delivering new content; a recent example being one of our engineers who wrote a piece on Ramadan while having a very physical job and being in lockdown. By being able to share his experiences, this not only gave him, and other Muslims, a platform to discuss their culture with everyone in the organisation, but it drove the education of others.
Focusing on the human element of I&D, not solely on the statistics, is much more likely to actually improve how your employees think and feel and will drive lasting change that will benefit everyone. That’s the ultimate goal. There’s a lot the industry needs to achieve and I’m hoping to help drive that with the team at SSE Enterprise Telecoms.