The road to inclusion

13th September 2021 Posted by

Earlier this summer, I felt both shocked and moved while hosting our weekly Wellness for All webinar. One of a series of sessions raising awareness and promoting inclusion and diversity in our company, the theme was transgender. Bobbi Pickard of Trans in the City – a joint initiative with global companies to inform attitudes to gender diversity – shared her experience as a transgender woman and talked about her transition.

The abuse and hate she has endured is a shameful reflection of society, as are the shocking statistics.  According to one study, as many as 48 per cent of trans people have attempted suicide at least once, and 84 per cent have thought about it. So, it was very moving to hear the feedback from colleagues in our live audience of more than 100 who found Bobbi’s story inspiring, expressed their gratitude for her sharing it and admiration for her fortitude.

Personally, I have learned a lot from this and other webinars we’ve hosted at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK on themes ranging from neurological diversity – living with autism – to deafness and racism awareness.

As a company, we’ve also been on a learning curve as far as inclusion and diversity is concerned.

Like many employers, we have long-established policies enshrining equal opportunities and our commitment to an inclusive workplace. Our place in the Sunday Times Top 25 Best Big Companies to Work For ranking and other awards and certifications endorse our commitment in this area. We have a positive warm culture. Having transformed the organisation as a champion of the circular economy and sustainability, we’ve campaigned on green issues and influenced policy.

However, over the past year or so we have embarked on a more holistic and proactive approach to promoting equity. That’s mainly because our employees identified inclusion and diversity as one of the eight key themes of our Wellness Charter. But societal influences too have focused wider attention on the need for a more inclusive, just society.

Any process of culture change in the workplace needs buy-in from the top as well as a willing response from middle management down to the people on the front line. That commitment from our board was reinforced after they listened to 18 colleagues from minority groups share their lived experience with them in a candid and honest conversation that was about sharing insights. Senior leaders do not know everything; they must be humble and acknowledge that there is always room for them to learn – and how better to learn, than from people’s own real experiences.

The company set up a Strategic Inclusion and Diversity Group in 2020. It meets quarterly, steers our approach, and has instigated a range of initiatives. We’ve joined the Business Disability Forum and we’re now a Disability Confident Employer; our entire HR team has undergone training on inclusion and diversity; and we’ve introduced mandatory unconscious bias training for all employees. Given the debate in the media questioning the value of such courses, it’s notable how positive the feedback from our people has been so far – many describing it as ‘eye-opening’. In short, it has been extremely valuable for our people, if only to start meaningful conversations.

Previously, we didn’t ask employees about things like their sexuality, and answering questions about this as well as all other sensitive information remains optional. But we need to understand the make-up of our workforce to inform our approach. So, we looked at best practice in employee data collection by the most forward-thinking organisations on inclusion and diversity. In March this year we launched a campaign to encourage people to share this more sensitive information, which will be analysed only as aggregated data. This followed a monthly message from our CEO, which was devoted to inclusion and diversity. Insights from the data are already helping to shape our programme.

Since the spring, more than 40 employees representing all minorities have also been contributing, not least by sharing their views with senior managers, as part of a new Inclusion & Diversity Network. Its members have taken part in workshops to identify the behaviours that risk excluding people, those that they find inclusive, and others they’d like to see.

We now have a designated Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager, an HR Lead for the I&D Network, and its members volunteer as I&D Ambassadors, talking to colleagues and encouraging open discussion. They have defined eight behaviours to foster an inclusive environment for all employees regardless of our differences. (These revolve around being: authentic, self-aware, a listener, genuine, fair, empathetic, sensitive to others’ differences, and a change agent.)

Several of our Wellness Webinars on transgender and other I&D topics were suggested by the Network. It has also encouraged individual colleagues to give video presentations that widen people’s understanding of other cultures and beliefs. So, for example, a Chargehand at one of our sites – explained on our Yammer social channel how his family marks the Muslim feast of Eid, and its religious and social significance. And we are also inviting a professional chef, Kumud Ghandi, CEO of The Cooking Academy to discuss the meaning of the Diwali festival of lights as part of a webinar ‘cookalong’.

Our employees appreciate these events and activities. So does our parent group. It recognised our work as best practice with a SUEZ Group I&D Award. The group has also conducted an international survey of employees to inform its strategy and asked us to collaborate on a short on-line training session on the history and context of the movement for LGBTQI+ rights. Given the cultural and legal differences across Europe, the Americas and Australasia, this was no mean feat. The 4.9/5 rating from those who’ve taken the course suggests that people welcome this attempt to demystify issues clouded by misunderstanding and misinformation.

It’s true that, at the outset, the vast and sometimes contentious I&D agenda seemed daunting. And we still have a long way to go. But we have made strides over the last 12 months. More than ever, we understand that listening, engaging, and acting to promote inclusion and diversity is the right thing to do.

For businesses it’s the smart thing too. There is a growing body of research evidence proving that diversity pays dividends in corporate performance – from more collaborative working, greater innovation, and higher morale to more sustainable decisions and superior financial returns. In other words, diversity and inclusion strengthen the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit to which SUEZ recycling and recovery UK is committed.

We can and will do more. If you have any ideas or insights about promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace I’d be delighted if you shared them.

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