The power of evidence-based D&I at Odeon

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Opening up a dialogue was key in uncovering the root cause of senior-level gender inequality at Odeon

Diversity and inclusion initiatives must be evidence-based and co-created in conjunction with the wider workforce to be truly powerful, according to Kathryn Pritchard, chief people officer at Odeon Cinemas Group.

Speaking to HR magazine about Odeon’s newly-launched 'Our Incredible Differences' D&I strategy, Pritchard explained how gathering data on diversity at the organisation was only the first step in researching what the strategy should look like.

“We looked at some of the hard data around the difference of men's and women’s experience in the organisation,” she reported. “We looked at how likely you were to get different performance scores, how likely you were to be promoted. Unsurprisingly, although we as an organisation have an even gender balance, we found that as you move up we have fewer women at the top.”

While other companies might have launched initiatives at this stage, the Odeon approach is always to engage in a dialogue with staff first, said Pritchard. “We thought 'we need to understand this more',” she explained. “We can’t start at the centre; we need to get out and talk to colleagues and find out what they think’s going on. So from the metrics we then launched a qualitative approach.

“We needed as many people involved in the diagnostic as possible; that changes the quality of the interventions we co-created. So we used the same kind of approach we'd use for any other HR intervention."

The Odeon team ran a series of focus groups, spending 60 hours interviewing men and women in the business. These conversations revealed that the overwhelming issue for senior gender diversity at Odeon was women’s confidence, said Pritchard, something the business might not have uncovered as conclusively without that dialogue.

“They were really wonderful conversations, just to hear from people firsthand that they didn’t have the confidence around business metrics in the same way as male colleagues,” she said.

Another finding the team might not otherwise have uncovered was well-meaning discrimination, reported Pritchard. “Sometimes there was a kind of benevolent discrimination where people thought ‘she won’t be able to do that job because she’s got to get him to sort the kids out…’,” she said.

The conversations also revealed the extent of support for tackling the problem among Odeon’s male colleagues, says Pritchard. “They were saying 'I’m glad because I didn’t know how to tackle it; I’m not sure whether I’m allowed to talk about it',’” she reported, adding that it was key they had something of an “amnesty” so that people weren’t afraid in these conversations about “being inadvertently offensive or derogatory”.

Off the back of the research Odeon has launched leadership programmes for female leaders, with high potential women buddying with male colleagues to jointly discuss the company’s culture and what Odeon needs to achieve. The company’s HR team produced a group-wide D&I policy, a high-profile promise and dashboard for all colleagues, and provided training for all senior leaders across Europe.

Pritchard explained the importance of starting with one key area of diversity and then building on this. “We just needed to get going and start the conversation,” she said. “There’s a lot to be said for going in gently.”

The next area of focus will be ethnicity, with the same now tried-and-tested approach applied.

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