The British Chambers of Commerce recently held its annual conference around the theme People, Planet, Progress, formalising its vision of developing talent now and for the future, boosting the green global economy, and seizing new opportunities.
In this, the first of a series of three articles, Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce CEO Justin Richardson affirms his regional organisation’s support for these goals, starting with People, and speaks to a Chamber member who understands a great deal about the importance of that theme – Inclusion 365’s Victoria Dale.
Justin: Victoria, the theme of People is a business imperative that we at Bedfordshire Chamber stand four-square behind. Could you explain how your business, Inclusion 365, supports this stance?
Victoria: We’re a Bedford-based businesses that helps other businesses champion Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), to improve their people’s wellbeing and business performance, and to help those businesses become employers of choice.
Justin: It’s interesting that you say employers of choice – it suggests that people select employers, as well as the other way round.
Victoria: Absolutely, and it’s not just employers that people are choosing. Businesses these days are often judged on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials, with EDI being a big part of the social piece, and this influences how, for example, investors choose appropriate businesses to put money into, or customers choose whose products to buy.
Justin: Can you give me some examples of how EDI works in practice to improve the experience of people within a business, and to value them as they should be valued?
Victoria: Sure, if you take the example of neurodivergent people, there are businesses we have helped to take steps to make their workplaces more neurodiversity-friendly, such as by creating quiet spaces for neurodivergent colleagues, and adjusting procedures at the recruitment stage.
Job adverts and internal role specs can unconsciously use exclusive or discriminatory language, so we’ve helped organisations to write job ads and specs to avoid these pitfalls and – ultimately – to prevent them missing out on hidden talent.
At the same time, personal factors like the menopause (male menopause included) and debilitating menstruation, and life demands such as home-schooling and childcare, are all areas where a considered approach to EDI can both make employees want to stay, and enable them to remain productive, to thrive within their role, and to feel supported.
Justin: What about racial and gender bias – do businesses still need help on this front, to prevent their people being discriminate against, or prevented from fairly reaching their potential?
Victoria: Racial bias still ranks highly, as does sex discrimination – particularly around the gender pay gap. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that these are issues businesses are legally obliged to act on.
Justin: EDI perhaps has a reputation as a bit of a tick-box exercise, and I know you’re very determined to change that – so what does EDI look like when it’s done properly and effectively?
Victoria: The answer to that is really that EDI should be embedded at every level of the business. What the organisation thinks it’s achieving with EDI policy, and the practices employees actually experience are often two very different things. We conduct focus groups across departments and job levels to home in on where EDI is and isn’t getting traction, why, and how both quick and longer-term changes can be made to redress the balance.
Getting this right then enables us to orient the rest of our EDI services – training, consultancy, one-to-one mentoring, EDI spot checks and health checks, and HR phone support – towards known issues and opportunities, as well as delivering wider EDI awareness.
Justin: Has the pandemic focused businesses’ attention more on people and their personal and professional wellbeing? Has some good come out of all that disruption?
Victoria: Yes, businesses have definitely come to place more importance on their people’s wellbeing. It’s an interesting point, because major upheavals in working practices can affect different people in different ways, just as COVID did, and EDI has been a key strategy for managing both of these people impacts.
When lockdown hit, for example, I worked with the Chamber to deliver a webinar to members around EDI and how to apply it to remote working, which many people were having to do for the first time.
Justin: Speaking honestly, Victoria, what kind of engagement with EDI and the value it places on people have you seen at Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce?
Victoria: I’ve been a member of the Chamber since 2018, and in that time I have discerned palpable interest in EDI in the Chamber, across both leadership and membership.
EDI conversations with the Chamber’s account managers happen frequently, and I get the sense that, in Bedfordshire – perhaps because of its diverse population – there’s a strong desire in businesses who already ‘get’ EDI to improve it, and an equally strong desire in those who perhaps haven’t yet fully got to grips with it to understand it better and do the right thing.
That’s a win for Bedfordshire’s business community and the people it employs.
Watch out for the second in this series of three articles – People, Planet, Progress – in the next issue.
For more information on how Bedfordshire Chamber helps businesses engage with critical business performance factors, visit www.chamber-business.com, or call 01582 522448