I was recently lucky enough to be a guest on the ‘How to empower’ podcast, speaking to Bernadette Kelly CBE, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport. It was a fascinating conversation about the importance of gender diversity and how organisations are missing millions by not prioritising it. Bernadette shared some useful tips on how organisations can increase and sustain their gender diversity. And whilst our conversation was focused specifically on women, many of the tips she shared are equally applicable to any diversity strand.
When you talk about inclusion, look beyond the staff in your organisation. You need to consider your whole value chain. Think about your customers, suppliers, and service users. Do you understand their needs, and are you meeting them? You need a full 360 degree view. What percentage of your customers are women? How are they consuming your products or services? How are they responding to your advertising? You’ll soon see the gaps. You may be missing out on millions of customers, millions of opportunities - ultimately millions of pounds - just by not making the effort to identify and understand them.
To ensure that womens’ needs are considered, they need to be present and contributing when decisions are being made. The Department for Transport is doing this successfully with 43% of their workforce as women. With a workforce that looks, sounds, thinks and feels like the people they’re serving - they are naturally better placed to do so.
Any inclusion effort needs to be sustained. Firstly you need to take the inclusion and diversity conversations out of the HR space and make them strategic and enterprise-wide. And then don’t stop! As Bernadette said “It’s easy to have a few successes on diversity and inclusion and then take your eye off the ball and find yourself going backwards. We’ve been really scrubbing [up] all of our systems around recruitment, progression, talent management; all of those things that help women to get in, and then to get on in the organisation. As a result we have a fantastically energised and growing network of people in the department.”
Organisations have a responsibility to recruit and retain diverse talent, and to ensure that there are role models at every level. You need people with different experiences and backgrounds in the seats of power. Some organisations, for example, are doing really well in terms of gender diversity, but when you dig a bit deeper, you find hidden barriers preventing women from less advantaged backgrounds progressing. Which doesn’t sound very inclusive to me.
COVID-19 has provided many of us the opportunity to reflect on how we live and work. Whether it’s around working or ticketing, there’s a growing demand for flexibility and it’s not just coming from women. Rather than dwell in the innumerable negative outcomes of the past year, we can look to this one as a positive. The pandemic has pushed matters of inclusion to the forefront and afforded this valuable opportunity to factor in inclusion by design, rather than as an afterthought.
Speaking to Bernadette filled me with hope. She is defining what it means to be a role model, and in her role at DfT, is in prime position to lead others on this journey. There are millions of women out there and millions of opportunities - organisations just need to seize them.