Industry Voices

Embracing D&I in telecoms

Bridget Woods professional.jpg

Bridget Woods, principal of wholesale commercial and propositions planning at BT, outlines three factors telcos must face to achieve true diversity and inclusion.

The telecoms industry is making considerable advances in improving and prioritising diversity and inclusion (D&I). Many businesses are now making public commitments to meet D&I targets part of their long-term strategic goals. While renewed mission statements and stronger corporate messaging give D&I greater public exposure, there are three integral ways businesses can ensure these goals are upheld across their organisations.

Give respect and address bias at the individual level

Although many people argue that bias is not an intrinsic part of their behaviour – that they are not prejudiced – stereotyping is a natural psychological process. Everyone must accept that they have unconscious biases that may lead to their behaviour negatively impacting the day-to-day experiences of others. In some cases, biases can influence decisions of individuals that have lasting consequences on the attitudes and experiences of those around them. Biases come in different forms and can be expressed towards multiple aspects of a person’s identity, such as gender, race, sexuality, religion, disability and socio-economic background.

Many people experience multiple biases that combine to generate a different outcome compared to the effect of one in isolation. The cumulative effect of multiple forms of discrimination compounding each other is termed “intersectionality”. Traditionally, inequalities of all forms have been viewed as a series of separate issues that require unique and singular approaches. This has led to conversations and support mechanisms for individuals with intersecting identities (eg, women who have disabilities) breaking down. As a result, the compound impact of biases can be significantly more than the sum of its parts, in part due to people being excluded from each of the communities their identities under.

Since bias and discrimination are found both in daily life and the workplace, companies and their people need to begin by making changes at the individual level. Independent from the principles that institutions champion are ordinary people holding basic values of respect and inclusivity. By ensuring that each person has equal opportunities , companies can start to address individual and systemic bias by giving their people freedom to make the decisions that are best for them.

Organisations must reconsider their approaches to dealing with inequality and bias if they are to make their workplaces inclusive. For instance, The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women Insights Report 2022 suggested that employers should take care when acting and responding to issues raised in the spaces of women’s different intersectional identities. It pointed to the adjustment or enhancement of support available to specific intersectional groups.

Support initiatives tailored to the issues facing your organisation

Companies should first evaluate their own cultures to understand the best approach for deploying D&I strategies that create supportive, inclusive environments for employees, and consider all aspects of a person’s identity.

This requires paying careful attention to the needs of underrepresented groups so that their voices are heard. It is crucial that the correct foundations and support systems are in place. Once decision-makers understand this, they can begin to foster the right environments and develop initiatives to implement true meritocracies.

Educate and nurture an inclusive organisational culture

New company policies designed to make working life more inclusive of the needs of different people certainly provide frameworks to encourage openness and freedom of self-expression. But people across all levels of the organisation play an active role in weaving this into the organisational culture. Allyship is critical to helping this change on the ground.

Sheree Atcheson, global director of diversity and inclusion at Valtech and author of Demanding More: Why Diversity and Inclusion Don’t Happen and What You Can Do About It, defines ‘allyship’ as the process of promoting and advancing a “culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefits people” – by being an upstander, not a bystander.

Mismatches between the priorities of business leaders and the day-to-day experiences of their people are areas of chief concern for HR professionals. This suggests significant gaps persist in the trickle-down process of behavioural and attitudinal change. The result is an asymmetry between feelings of trust, satisfaction and inclusion between the people of an organisation and their leaders.

Examples of allyship range from being respectful of the contributions of other employees in meetings by allowing them time to speak, giving credit for ideas, and maximising the variety of roles available to different people. Line managers play key roles in this process, as they are responsible for setting the standards that company leaders are pushing for. To facilitate this, businesses can educate and empower their employees at all levels by rolling out mentorship programmes to open conversations between employees, managers, and company leaders.

Companies need to prioritise their D&I strategy so it is level with business-critical strategic objectives. Educating colleagues, ensuring policies are personalised, and addressing inclusivity at the individual level while championing allyship, are critical to making real, lasting changes.

By opening up conversations and taking action, businesses can ensure that every one of their employees have the opportunity to achieve their individual goals in the way that is right for them.